In the previous part of this review trilogy I tested 123D Catch. Autodesk’s combination of an easy-to-use mobile app to create reality captures and cloud service to manage them works great for many purposes. On top of that I was impressed by the results taken with my old Nexus 5 phone in everyday circumstances.
In this part I’ll focus on the next step up in Autodesk’s cloud-based “Photo to 3D”—or Photogrammetry—offerings: ReCap 360. Whereas 123D Catch is targeted at consumers, ReCap 360 is targeted at professionals. It has a few extra bells and whistles. Read on to find out if that means better results.
Autodesk ReCap 360 is both a Web Service and a Windows application. The latter is meant for 3D Laser Scanning. I’ll be using the web version for this review because that one is meant for Photogrammetry.
Whereas 123D Catch is 100% free, ReCap 360 is not. The ReCap product website is far from clear about the rather complex business model that uses a combination of a subscription and pay-as-you-go credits. But the good news is that the web version is free to some extend and this free mode is very useful for many purposes.
Limitations for “Free” Version
It’s not advertised as such, but you don’t need a subscription to use ReCap 360 for an unlimited amount of projects. However, when you do these limitations apply:
- Upload Maximum of 50 Photos (20 less than 123D Catch)
- Photos are uploaded in full resolution, but downscaled before processing.
I’m assuming this based on the texture size of the final output and the product landing page that mentions “Photo to 3D in full resolution” as a subscription benefit.
- Only “Preview” quality meshes.
- 5 GB of A360 cloud storage
Benefits of a Subscription
With a monthly subscription that costs €70 / $65—with discounts for longer periods—you’ll get:
- Upload Maximum of 250 Photos
- Full Resolution photo processing
- 10 “Ultra” Quality meshes a year included.
This option costs 5 “Cloud Credits” each time you select it and 50 are included each year. More can be purchased separately.
- 25 GB of A360 cloud storage
This is also why I only review ReCap 360 in “free mode” here.
I took the photos for this test with my Sony RX100M2 camera. Most tests I did with the smallest aperture of f/11 and lowest ISO of 100 to prevent out-of-focus areas and noise. Naturally, when you want to do this indoors, you need to use a tripod. Some tests I did on full-auto, which gave shallow depth of field to some photos. I discovered that the algorithm has no real problems with background blur, as long as the subject itself is completely in focus.
I shot both RAW and JPGs, but used only the JPGs for my tests because I didn’t have time to process the RAW files and convert them to JPG.
The Web Service (in Free mode)
Loggin into recap360.autodesk.com requires an Autodesk account. I wrote my previous post I discovered that signing up for an Autodesk 123D account was a one-click procedure thanks to the social sign-in options. Here the only option is signing up by email.
The web app itself is nicely designed, with large buttons that make clear this design team used a tablet-first approach. In the upper left corner a big “Photo to 3D” button awaits your click. Next you can upload photos from your computer or select photos from earlier projects that have been saved to A360 Drive.
You can check your photos in tiled view so you can quickly delete photos that have clearly failed. If you have selected more than 50 photos, you’ll be notified to delete some before being able to upload them. “Survey Settings” is a paid option to aid Areal Survey Photography (which I’m not covering here).
The next step is the Settings page. Here you can give your project a title and set the quality. As you can see in the screenshot, the “Preview” quality is free, but the “Ultra” version—which will output a more detailed 3D model—requires 5 “Cloud Credits”.
I’m not 100% sure how much Cloud Credits cost, because I don’t see the option to buy them in my free A360 Account. I guess you need a subscription to at least A360 ($10 month) to be able to purchase them. If the screenshots in Autodesk’s Knowledge Network are accurate it’s $100 for a pack of 100 Cloud Credits. So a high quality mesh will cost $5.
You can also enable “Smart Cropping” which was a feature I truly missed when testing 123D Catch. This feature figures out what the main subject of your capture is and deletes everything else—like random, free-floating parts of background geometry. I left it on for all of my tests and didn’t have any problems with ReCap 360 cropping away the wrong parts.
You can export in either .RCP format—which is used by the Memento application I will review in part 3—or the open and versatile .OBJ format.
Next you photos will be uploaded to the cloud and put into a queue before processing. This never took longer than a few minutes for me. As with 123D Catch, you will see an indicator to give you some idea of the cloud-solving progress, but no actual indication of how long it will take. It says it will send you an e-mail when the model is finished, but I never got any. So you still have to check the progress every once in a while.
After processing you can preview the results in-browser in realtime 3D, which is nice. I found the navigation a bit tricky, because the model seems to rotate around a fixed pivot point at a random location, but it’s a great way to see if the results are any good before downloading.
(Great idea, but doesn’t work well)
In the right pane in the screenshot above you can see all the photos that were used to create the 3D model. Sometimes it will also display photos that were rejected and not “stitched” into the model.
When this happens with a photo that was really necessary for a complete model, you can choose to manually aid the algorithm by selecting reference points on the unstitched photos and a few (preferably 3 or more) photos that did work automatically.
It really seems like a great feature, but unfortunately it didn’t work as expected for me. I tried this method multiple times, on multiple captures, both by selecting distinctive object edges as well as selecting high-contrast color details. In all cases it either changed nothing, or completely messed up the model.
That being said, only on a few occasions the software had rejected one or a few photos. Most of the times the model was complete and looked fine without those stitched in. And I must be honest that some of the rejected photos where a bit sloppy (or contained fish tanks in the background…).
No Post Processing Features
While the Smart Cropping feature works great, there are no manual post processing tools in ReCap 360. So if your model contains holes or artifacts, you have to correct these in an external 3D modeling or sculpting program.
Below are a few of my tests. All taken with my Sony RX100M2 and processed with the free web version of ReCap 360. I didn’t retouch any of the photos before uploading and didn’t retouch the 3D models, unless otherwise noted. All is processed in ReCap 360’s (free) preview quality.
Let’s start with the same knitted teddy bear I used in my 123D Catch Review. I’ve embedded both the ReCap 360 (top) and 123D Catch (bottom) versions for comparison.
It’s a bit difficult to compare the examples above because of the different lighting (the 123D version is lit by daylight through a window and the ReCap version by the lights above my dining table). There seems to be more texture detail in the ReCap 360 version, but that’s simply because it has more contrast. Fact is that all textures of the ReCap version are contained in a single 4096 x 4096 texture map and the 123D Catch texture is spread over 3 of them.
Geometry-wise (enable the wireframe mode to compare) the comparison is easier to make and it’s clear that 123D Catch generated a denser, more detailed mesh than ReCap 360’s preview quality—more than twice the amount!
Another example is this statue of Dutch Nobel-prize-winning physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, located in my hometown. Unfortunately I’m not tall enough to capture the top of his head, but I think the result is nice nonetheless. Especially because this is the direct output of ReCap 360—no post-processing applied.
While shooting the Yoda 3D Print (about 15cm tall) below, I forgot to close the aperture of the camera, which resulted in a shallow depth of field. This resulted in some blurred textures, but I chose to include it anyway because I was impressed that ReCap was able to generate this geometry even when the background—and some parts of Yoda—were out of focus.
Last, but certainly not least, I asked my co-founder Patrick to try to make a 3D Photo Scan of me.
Above is one of the results of many tries and experimenting with different approaches. As you can see my sweater looks great, but my head… not so much (I can honestly say I look slightly better in person).
The problem is that ReCap 360 gives no control over the texturing. It decides which photo will be used to build the overall texture. No matter what I tried, my face would always be made out of multiple—slightly misaligned—photos. It would be great if you could somehow tell the software which photos to prioritize for texturing. A layered texture file would be even better, of course.
If you want to use your (professional) camera and an easy-to-use web-interface to do photogrammetry, ReCap 360 is certainly worth a try.
In my opinion, if your scope is to photo-scan relatively simple objects up to human bust size and want to post the results online on Sketchfab or use them for purposes that don’t require extremely dense meshes, the “preview” quality of the free version is good enough.
If that’s true for you, the big question is: is the free version of ReCap 360 better than the free 123D Catch app? That might not be a web version, but the mobile app does transfer gyro and location data from your smartphone to aid the photogrammetry—and you can submit 40% more (70 vs. 50) pictures with it. On top of that, 123D Catch will output comparable texture (of course depending on your smartphone’s camera) but a mesh that’s more than twice as dense.
But it’s good to also compare the workflow differences: 123D Catch doesn’t allow you to upload photos taken earlier, so you must have no problem with snapping them in-app at the moment you want to make a capture. I personally like the benefits of doing the photo session with my Sony RX100M2 camera: being able to shoot as many photos as I like and having a copy of them for later use, using a tripod, using the tilt-able screen and in way better low-light performance. And because the RX100M2 can be remote controlled over WiFi from a smartphone, I can make photos from a tripod way above my head (great for statues!).
Also, if you have no experience with 3D modeling software, the great Smart Cropping feature of ReCap 360 might win you over.
If you need do more features and quality, you can choose the paid subscription and buy additional Cloud Credits on the go. But personally, I think that the subscription service is priced too high if you want to use it for just Photogrammetry. The price is probably only justifiable if you’re (also) going to use the Windows desktop app for 3D Laser Scanning. I don’t understand why Autodesk has chosen to put the Web Service and Desktop app—which do totally different things—under one product/subscription.
If you’re just interested in high-res professional photogrammetry you can take a look at Autodesk’s Memento, which is still being offered for free—with full resolution mesh and texture support and up to 250 photos—because it’s a “Labs” product. I’ll take a look at that one in the next part of this review trilogy.
Update May 2016
As of May 2016 Autodesk Memento has officially been commercialized and rebranded into Autodesk ReMake and is no longer 100% free. There’s now a Free and a $20 / month Pro version. The biggest differences are the maximum amount of photos (125 vs 250) and the Pro feature of offline computation (the Free version is Cloud-only). You can compare all features here. A Mac version is coming soon, but ReMake is currently Windows-only.
I was half-way review Memento, but I’m going to update it with this new commercial version and post my Review of Autodesk ReMake Pro soon!
As always, feel free to comment here or on Twitter if you have any remarks or questions!