3D Scanned Mini Golf in Polycam App

Polycam 3D Scanning App Review – LiDAR vs Photo Mode

The most recent update from Polycam, Photo Mode, made my life easier. Basically, it is a very convenient feature powered by Apple’s Object Capture – photogrammetry processing in the cloud. With the hassle-free switching between LiDAR and Photo Mode, the Polycam app became a handy two-in-one 3D scanning application.

Convenient 3D Scanning Technology

LiDAR and Photo modes give the ability to capture 3D objects or the scenery using smartphones in two ways. If LiDAR technology on iPhones became a significant time-saver for processing certain scans (sceneries, murals, streets). Then processing photo sets in photogrammetry software is usually done on a relatively powerful PC or in the cloud via PC (f/e Autodesk ReCap software). Polycam is one of the first mobile apps that enabled uploading photo sets to the powerful PC/Server in the cloud. Once in the cloud, Apple’s Object Capture 3D reconstruction software does the job and 3D models become available to download after a short duration.

At the moment LiDAR works on iPhones 12 PRO or higher versions. Photo Mode should be working on all iOS devices. According to Polycam, an Android version of the application with the Photo Mode feature is expected to be released by the end of this year.
Quote from Elliott (Polycam)
Quote by Elliot (Polycam) via Discord.
Photo Mode is powered by Apple’s Object Capture. It could definitely be used with an Android device since the mobile device is just uploading to a computer that does the actual reconstruction. We have plans to create an Android version by the end of the year.

Which Mode to Use: LiDAR or Photo? – Both

First of all, if an object or scenery is important for you, I would recommend capturing it using the LiDAR mode to start with. The capture in LiDAR plays as a sort of a warm-up. As the LiDAR’s result comes very quickly, it is easy to get the feel of where to pay attention when taking the photos in the Photo Mode.

If to compare the end quality, Photo Mode provides better results, I would say, for everything. Only if we want to 3D scan large objects (houses, rooms) or the scenery, we would need to take multiple photo sets and stitch the objects together manually, when LiDAR may provide us with a lower quality result, but in a matter of seconds.

Stone Pillar - LiDAR vs Photo Mode - Mesh Difference
Stone Pillar – LiDAR vs Photo Mode – Mesh Difference 
(Image: 3DWithUs)

Sometimes it is difficult to see the significant difference between LiDAR and Photo Mode results. Like with the stone pillar above, there is a slight difference in the object previews, while meshes, in reality, have a big difference. However, to view the mesh I needed a separate software as I could not find that option in the app itself. If you plan to 3D scan for 3D printing, for example, object capturing in Photo mode produces a much better result.

Polycam’s Photo Mode – General Tips

Read the tips (question mark icon)!
It is recommended to take 20-200 images before uploading them to the cloud. I would recommend following the basic photogrammetry rules, like avoiding the shiny objects, restart the capture if an object moved, etc.

NB! Capture now – process later to save the battery life. Uploading may eat up a lot of battery charge. It is better to do the upload later via a faster broadband, for example.

Photo set can be downloaded as a Zip file. This is helpful in case you need to retrieve some of the images or retry the photo set on other photogrammetry software.

Polycam’s LiDAR Mode – General Tips

Read the tips (question mark icon)!
Relatively easy to use. Preview mode is the best guidance in the majority of LiDAR 3D apps including Polycam. When scanning, I usually slow down for a little bit in places with thin walls or tricky surfaces so that the software has time to capture properly.

Video Making Feature

Video making is an easy and straightforward feature and handy for sharing. Basically, these are the recorded views of 3D scans. If you want to share a real 3D view, then the model has to be published on such a platform as Sketchfab, for example. Or you register and share the scan in the Polycam community.
– Orbit mode. Default Mode
– Path mode. Usually available for the LiDAR scans. Good when murals or walls are captured as there is a void on the other side.

Bench Made of Stone – Orbit and Path Video Modes in Polycam (MP4: 3DWithUs)

Measure – Tool

– Ruler. Easy to measure the distance from dot to dot.
– Floorplan. In most cases it won’t be activated unless the whole room is being 3D scanned. This function is for the scans in LiDAR mode.
– Blueprint. This feature will draw for you a blueprint even from a flower bed scan.

3D Captured Mini Golf Field and Blueprint Feature
Polycam App Measuring Tool’s Blueprint Feature
(Capture: 3DWithUs)

Polycam Community – Explore & Publish

Brilliant feature.
Easy to sign up. Please note that the scan’s published date will be the date when it was captured. It was surprising as I could not find my BBQ model in the Recent tab. I had to scroll to one day earlier to find it because my BBQ was captured a day earlier.

I find that uploads by the community give much clearer picture of what may and may not work. And if something was scanned, similar to the published model, and it doesn’t work from the first attempt, then it might be reasonable to try again.

My BBQ has an extremely, for 3D scanning, thin legs and it took me three attempts to achieve the desired result.


After the Photo Mode feature update, I came to the conclusion that such feature should be enabled in every smartphone 3D scanning application. And because Polycam was one of the first to implement this feature, it receives a lot of attention from both professional and casual users.
For me personally, it was an important improvement, because I was about to reactivate my $50 p/m license on Autodesk ReCap Photo (review), which I wanted to use for the tree trunk scans. Pros are not only in saving money but in the convenience that I mentioned before.

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