Matterport takes photography in another direction with fully immersive 3D virtual environments based on image capture in the real world.
From the outset, the camera looks and works completely differently from a standard point-and-shoot mirrorless or DSLR. Set-up is quick, and aside from the large lens on what you can only assume is the front, everything else is controlled from a Smartphone app.
Once the shutter button in the App is pressed, your involvement in the process is over, aside from you having to duck and cover to avoid being in shot.
After processing, the results are incredible; the Matterport Pro3 strips out all the complexity of creating 360º imagery, but then it does so much more, as this is no ordinary 360 images with 3D mesh data also being captured.
The technology is awe-inspiring, as are the results, it may not be direct static photography as we know it, and really the camera is aimed at architecture and real estate, but even so you cannot fail to be impressed.
Now in its 3rd major iteration, the Matterport has come of age and is ready to stretch out into the greater imaging world.
Immersive full 360º images have captured the human imagination from a time well before the latest VR headsets and advances in technology. From the flat projections of camera obscures seen in the victorian era to iMax cinemas and observatories, they all aim to immerse you in another world.
While your mind is tricked into the immersive field with those blacked out rooms and larger than life screens, the experience is nothing compared with today’s full VR. The latest Matterport Pro3 is far more than just a stills camera that shoots flat 2D images and stitches them together, it creates immersive 3D experiences based on real life.
The Matterport Pro3 is essentially a 3D scanner and camera. The large lens on the front takes a full 360º rotation of the room, and the LiDAR scanner sends out laser beams measuring distances in all directions.
Usually, when you shoot a full 360º image, you capture a series of individual frames stitched together, ready for viewing with VR glasses or through a browser. These images can seem distorted when viewed in the VR space. The perspective of the objects will look flat and static, distorting as you move around; the experience is quite obviously just a flat 360º image – clever but several levels below the quality of the output from the Matterport.
The images and data from the Matterport Pro3 are a little more complex than the familiar static 360º images. The Matterport Pro3 data once captured is sent to the Matterport computers to process to create a 3D mesh of the area, with the photographs mapped onto the 3D model.
The result is a photorealistic representation of the room that when viewed through VR glasses is far more immersive, less distorted and more realistic than a flat 360º panorama.
Range up to : 100m
Scan time: less than 20 seconds
Photo resolution: 134MP
LiDAR : Yes
Battery life : 3 hours
Smartphone compatibility: iOS and Android
Matterport Add-ons: Trueplan, BIM file, E57, Matterak, Schematic Floor Plans, Google Street View, Content distribution to redfin/home.com/VRBO
Build and Handling
Considering the price and what this camera does, the Matterport Pro3 arrives in a relatively small and simple box. The size gets smaller as you open the box up to reveal a battery, charger, tripod attachment and a small semi-hard case containing the Matterport Pro3 and that’s it.
This first introduction to the Matterport Pro3 essentially sums up how well-tuned the designers are to their hardware, user requirements, and functions. It’s all incredibly simple and neat. The whole thing fits comfortably inside a standard backpack with the instant feeling that anyone can use the Matterport Pro3; no experience is needed; just set up and go. Testament to this is the number of users from non-imaging backgrounds shown on the Matterport website, galleries or museums, architectural buildings, educational facilities and hotels.
Alongside the Matterport Pro3, the only other pieces of equipment that you need are a tripod with the head removed and a Smartphone, iOS or Android, as the App works equally well with either. While the Smartphone type doesn’t matter, the amount of free space does, so ensure that there are a good few GB of space ready to download and store the files captured by Matterport Pro3 as it runs through its processes.
The Matterport Pro3 itself consists of three parts, the battery that slots into the base of the unit and is charged by a separate USB charger that is also supplied. Then the quick-release tripod mount that clips into the base of the Matterport. This is a metal attachment with a 3/8-inch thread at the base that screws directly into the top thread of a standard tripod. In this test, I tried and used a Benro Mach 3, Manfrotto 055 and 3LT Winston 2.0, all good solid tripods that make ideal basis once their heads are removed.
The Matterport Pro3 camera is quirky-looking, as you’ll see in the pictures. On the front is the large lens that captures the images, then in the middle is the LiDAR Mirror, which is the clever bit; on the back is the power button and small screen, and on the base is the socket for the quick tripod release. As the camera goes, this is all extremely minimalistic as all of the main controls go through the smartphone app rather than the hardware itself.
The build is all very solid and weighty, with the simple lines of the camera’s exterior looking otherworldly. Aside from the lens, there is little else about the exterior that gives away its function or features unless you know exactly what it is.
The whole look of the camera and the supporting App quickly starts to build a picture of who it is aimed at. While photographers will find the Matterport a lot of fun, albeit expensive, the true market is real estate, building, commercial, architectural and archaeological; there are probably plenty of other professionals that would also find this camera extremely useful. The Matterport Pro3 has been designed to do a job beyond just capturing images in a traditional 2D sense; it utilises a LiDAR sensor to create a 3D mesh of its surroundings.
The LiDAR sensor is the clever bit in the middle; essentially, it beams out a laser and measures the amount of time it takes for the reflected light to return to the sensor. The beam determines the distance, and a 3D mesh can be built.
This LiDAR sensor enables the ability to create immersive, photorealistic representations of areas that would be impossible with a camera alone. For architects and real estate, Matterport gives the ability to create full immersive representations of buildings to a degree that would not have been possible before without being on location or by commissioning expensive 3D modelling.
To capture the image, the Matterport Pro3 is mounted on a tripod five feet from the ground, then the shutter button is in the App is pressed, and the camera starts the scanning process. The camera rotates through the full 360º to capture everything around it, inside or out.
Once the information from the 3D mesh and the images are put together, you have a textured 3D model that can then be navigated in the virtual space.
With a few clicks in the App, you can create a doll house view of the area or a floor plan or 3D model that can then be opened and finetuned in another application.
The camera’s features seem quite limited due to its simplicity and focus of the cameras intended audience. The large lens captures the panoramic image; the LiDAR captures the 3D data, the App creates a flat preview of each scan, and then the files are sent through the App to the Matterport server for processing into the 3D enviroment.
When it comes to where the Matterport can be used, the camera can capture data up to 100m from the camera inside or out. The Matterport Pro3 can capture e57 files, which will interest many professionals working with buildings. These files bind the image and 3D mesh data; however, the scanning distance is reduced from 100m to 20m, but in real terms, this starts to make sense as you use the Matterport Pro3 in the field.
Regarding accuracy, the +-20mm error at 10m is good enough for most cases, including AEC documentation, a technical standard that some professions will require.
Once the camera is positioned and ready to go, each scan takes less than 20 seconds. Once that scan is complete, it then takes a little longer to upload and process.
The imaging camera features a large lens capable of capturing 360º images at 134mp. This image is stitched as the camera scans the environment it is within, and the only image file you get to see is the completed one rather than its component parts.
Battery life is an important feature, especially when scanning larger areas. At 3 hours of scan time, that’s a good day’s scanning from one battery, and it takes around three and a half hours for a full charge. As the battery is swappable, it’s probably a good idea to buy an additional battery encase.
As there is only the power button on the Matterport, all interaction with the camera is made through the Matterport capture App. This is fully compatible with iOS and Android but does require you to register for an account.
Once installed, the App connects to the smartphone through wifi to ensure a robust connection.
Once the scans are captured and processed, the outputs can be used for Trueplan, BIM file, E57, Matterak, Schematic Floor Plans, Google Street View, and Content distribution to redfin/home.com/VRBO. Some of these do require an additional purchase for the add-on.
The initial set-up of the Matterport Pro3 is quick, with the tripod adapter screwing into the tripod legs, the battery is then inserted, and the camera locked in place on top of the adapter.
A quick check of the height, with Matterport suggesting that the tripod plate should be five feet off the ground. The Benro Mach 3 is ideal as not only is it extremely sturdy, but with all legs fully extended, it reaches exactly five feet, so there is no need for measuring!
Once the Matterport Pro3 is in place, press the power button, and the small screen shows the Matterport logo as it boots up. The bootup process takes a minute or two which gives you time to load up the app.,
The Matterport Capture App does require you to register; this takes a couple of minutes, and once done, you can connect to the Matterport Pro 3 once it has booted up.
A quick note on the App, if you don’t have the Matterport Pro3 to capture 360º but still want to give it a go without the 3D scanning, then the App will utilise your mobile phone’s camera. Using iPhone 11 Pro, the results were impressive, and Matterport does sell a mobile phone panoramic head which looks interesting, as well as far more affordable than the Matterport Pro3.
Once the Matterport has booted, you can select its wifi network from your phone’s settings before returning to the App. The visualisation should be from the Matterport rather than your phone’s camera.
Hit the shutter button, and off it goes.
Once the first scan is complete, you’ll see a floorplan view of the room scanned appear in the App. You can then move the camera three paces and take the next scan.
During the test, I worked out a walking route of the locations, but as time passed, I found that the software was clever enough to stitch together different areas without issue. For example, if you have a corridor with many rooms coming off to the left and right, you can start by walking the corridor for the entire length and then return to each room. The one stipulation is that the doors to the rooms are open, so the camera has refences points in the images to work from.
If the doors need to be closed, you can link them up using the realign feature in the App.
Once the complete scan is complete, you can then add markers; these are things like doors, mirrors and windows. You can also make alterations to the layout by using the realign tools. When you’re happy with the adjustments, it’s a simple case of hitting upload and off the files go to the Matterport server for processing. A simple room scan takes around ten minutes to process, while a full floor scan will take a good hour or more, depending on the complexity.
Once the files are returned through the Matterport App, you can add hotspots where viewers can click to gain more information about certain aspects.
While what the Matterport Pro3 does is complex and pushes imaging technology to its limit, in use and with the outputted imaging files it all seems extremely easy and straightforward. In use, the camera couldn’t be easier to use as it essentially handles everything for you. Just make sure that it’s set up correctly and at the right height, duck behind a wall, door or object, so you’re not in the scan and hit the shutter button on the App and that’s it.
Once the first scan is captured, take three steps to the next spot with the camera and repeat the process. Most of the alignment will be expertly handled by the Ap. It’s only a case of a closed door where the camera hasn’t any information to stitch images that you’ll need to align the rooms manually.
The results of the scans are impressive. Using the 3D data captured by the LiDAR sensor eliminates the perspective distortion you often get with flat panoramic images converted to VR. The visualisations are completely immersive and take the imaging to another level.
The Matterport Pro3 has that instant wow factor due to how it looks, functions and outputs, however, there’s a little movement for imaging creativity. This camera is designed to do a job and it does that extremely well.
For professions where capturing VR scenes of building interiors and exteriors is required, there is no other imaging technology that comes close to the immersive approach of the Matterport Pro3 at this price.
If you want to see more of what Matterport Pro3 can do, head to the Matterport.com website and check out the extensive library of VR scans. If you want to give it a go, download the App and try it.
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