123D is Autodesk’s collection of entry-level 3D apps. From web-based design apps to tablet-based digital sculpting. 123D Catch is the capturing member of the family and is available for iOS, Android and Windows. I used the Android version (1.2.1) for this review—on my old Nexus 5, because it’s incompatible with my new Nexus 5X due to a camera issue.
The Nexus 5 I used has an 8 megapixel camera, but judging the upload speed I’m guessing the photos are downscaled before uploading. I could only find information about older non-mobile versions of 123D Catch that downscaled the photos to 3 megapixels, so I’m assuming that’s still the case.
From the beginning it’s clear that this app is designed to make reality capture quick and easy. After a one-click login with your Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo (yes, Yahoo!), Google, Linkedin or Microsoft account, you get a few easy-to-understand instructions and can start taking photos.
The nicest feature of Catch is that it guides you through the photo-taking process by using the gyroscope in your phone to determine which angles you’ve done. The indicator shows two 360-degree indicators: one for taking a series of 18 photos straight at your object and additional 6 photos from a downwards-facing angle. The indicator can be switched off, allowing you to take up to 70 photos from any angle you like.
After hitting the checkmark you get the possibility to review the photos and retake the ones that clearly failed.
Now all photos are uploaded to be processed by the cloud. And that’s where photogrammetry can get a little bit frustrating. You literally have no idea how long it will take. This depends on the complexity of the photo and how large the queue of Autodesk’s cloud is. Processing Teddy took about half an hour. Then, when it was almost done, I got this error.
The info panel gives you some general tips, but there’s no way to find out what went wrong specifically for this capture. So you can’t really learn from it.
I figured either my table top was hard to track in combination with the similarly colored parts of the bear or my goldfish Ed (who lives in an aquarium on this table) ignored my instructions to not move while he was in frame.
I moved Teddy over to another—and more 360°-compatible—table, put him on another of my daughters perfectly trackable belongings and repeated the process. And after a lot of “cloud thinking”… success!
Sure, it’s never nice to wait but what the Autodesk servers do in minutes, would probably take hours to process on even the fastest desktop computer—and isn’t even realistically possible on a smartphone. I’m confident that “practice makes perfect” is totally true for photogrammetry and you’ll quickly learn which setups suit certain objects after a few mistakes.
You can review the finished capture in an interactive 3D manner. As you can see below, the cloud solved not just Teddy, but also parts of my living room. And while you can frame your capture in the second step, that is only used to generate a 2D thumbnail for the online gallery.
I find it very inconvenient that the software isn’t smart enough to know that al these random blobs of geometry in the distance aren’t part of the model I photographed. Especially because 123D Catch is clearly marketed for capturing small objects. I would also have been satisfied with a simple way to delete unwanted parts. Shouldn’t be too hard on a touch screen.
Because of the inability to easily clean-up captures the 123D Catch Gallery contains many entries with distracting geometry. I hope Autodesk will soon solve this. Ideally automatically, which is totally possible since both Recap 360 and Memento have a “smart cropping” feature—more on that when I review these solutions in the next post in this series.
If the parts you want to retouch are in one spot by coincidence, you can easily edit the .JPGs in Photoshop like any regular 2D image. But in recent versions of Photoshop it’s also possible to open the 3D .OBJ file and retouch or paint onto the 3D surface interactively. Just remember to set 3D > Paint System > Projection to be able to paint over seams of multiple textures.
Both the iOS version (2.1.1) and Android version (1.2.1) of 123D Catch have last been updated in November 2015. My feature requests for the next update are a clean-up or (automatic) cropping feature, upgrading the Android Camera API (so it works with my Nexus 5X) and improving the feedback you get when it’s cloud-processing the capture. It would also be nice to receive a mobile notification when processing is finished so you don’t have to check the progress every 10 minutes to discover it’s still in thinking-some-more-mode, which sometimes literally takes forever. When it does: swipe left to delete.
That said, I’m very impressed with 123D Catch. Both the geometry and texture detail are fine for most non-professional—and even a lot of professional—purposes. And given the fact that both the app and the 123D account are totally free, 123D Catch is a great first step for people getting into photogrammetry, like me.