Drone photogrammetry uses images captured by a drone-mounted camera to reconstruct the terrain in an accurate 3D model using image overlap and sufficient ground control.
Lidar is a direct measurement where you physically hit a feature with light and measure the reflection.
In the case of photogrammetry, a quality, high-resolution, full-frame sensor camera can yield outputs with horizontal (x-y) accuracies in the range of 1 cm (0.4 in) and elevation (z) accuracies in the range of 2 to 3 cm (0.8 to 1.2 in) over hard surfaces, enabling precise volumetric analysis.
The typical absolute accuracy that you can expect from a lightweight LIDAR system on a fixed-wing drone at an elevation of about 100-200m is approximately 10 cm (4 in) horizontal and 5 cm (2 in) vertical.
By flying lower, lightweight UAV LIDAR provides a higher point density than manned aerial LIDAR and can achieve better accuracy even though the laser is less powerful.
Both photogrammetry and lightweight UAV LIDAR rely on drones to capture the data. So in these cases, you can expect to cover up to 10 km2 (4 mi2) per flight. If you are working with classical airborne LIDAR, you can cover up to 1000 km2 (400 mi2).
Photogrammetry offers photorealistic mapping results in the form of orthomosaics, point clouds, and textured mesh. A true, life-like digital twin.
LIDAR offers a sparse laser point cloud that gives a general sense of shapes and contours but does not offer contextual detail. You can also colorize LIDAR data with RGB data, but this is a more complicated process.
Photogrammetry processing for full resolution takes several hours (or days) depending on the project size. If you only need a sparse set of accurate tie points (like from a LIDAR source), photogrammetry tools offer downscaled processing options.
LIDAR point clouds are directly geo-referenced with real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning during flight.
Depending on the project size, the process takes from less than an hour (smaller projects with lightweight drone LIDAR) to several days (large projects with manned aerial LIDAR).
Choose LiDAR for:
Choose Photogrammetry for:
It’s not that one is necessarily better than the other. Ultimately it’s the task at hand that will determine the best solution.
If the contrast, lighting, subject, and conditions are in your favor, photogrammetry is probably more than adequate for the job. But for challenging mapping projects where elevation accuracy, complex structures, or partly shrouded terrain are involved, LiDAR is probably the way to go.
Cost can also be the deciding factor that pushes you in one direction or the other.
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