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Pro Photographer John McBay Shares His iPhone Capture Experiences and Compares Them with the Matterport Pro2

The verdict? Use the right camera for the job at hand. And while possible to capture a complete 3D scan with an iPhone with time, practice and patience, he predicts that the majority of real estate agents and homeowners won’t do it themselves.
John McBay

John McBay is an independent real estate photographer and owner of Perfect Exposure Imaging. He started his business approximately 13 years ago and has photographed about 2,000 residential listings. He feels fortunate that some of his best customers list quite a few luxury properties; in the last year, he has photographed three properties that listed for more than $4 million. 

Regardless of the size or price of the property, he prides himself on quality over quantity, shooting them all with the same care and attention to detail.

He has also done a small amount of commercial real estate photography, with the most challenging being a 125,000 sq. ft. refrigerated food distribution facility. “Shooting the 200 x 100 x 50ft tall freezer room from 30 feet up in the air on a scissor lift at 20 degrees below zero was an interesting challenge,” he said. “I also got to shoot the same facility from a helicopter with the doors removed.”

We found out about John and his photography business when he submitted his Matterport model for inclusion in our gallery - a first-ever Matterport scan no less! We were impressed with the results he produced with his iPhone 11, so we thought we’d ask him to share his best practices for all of us to learn from.

 

What inspired you to try Matterport for iPhone?

I have been aware of Matterport for a number of years. But, since none of my clients had ever requested this type of service, I hadn’t considered investing in the Matterport platform.

A couple of months ago, I received an email from Matterport indicating that it would soon offer the ability to use an iPhone for creating Matterport tours. Shortly thereafter, one of my better customers contacted me and asked if I could provide any type of “virtual tour” or video. He indicated that Covid-19 had made it difficult to show listings.

I visited the Matterport website and decided to download the software onto my iPhone 11. It was important to me that I could test out Matterport without a significant investment. I read all of the online manuals, watched any and all videos on technique that I could find, and then started scanning my own house.

I must have scanned it a dozen times. Each time there were areas that came back blurry. I assumed it must be poor technique on my part. While researching what I might be doing wrong, I came across a statement on the Matterport support portal that indicated that the blurry areas were a known issue and that it would be addressed in the next version of the software. I made my customer aware of this and indicated that until the problem was resolved, I could not offer them Matterport tours.

Shortly thereafter, the new software version was released. I tested it extensively and found that the blurring issue had been resolved. I immediately notified my clients that I would now be offering this service.

We understand that the home you submitted was captured with your iPhone 11 and it was your first scan of a complete house. How long did it take you to do it?

It was, and it took approximately two hours. I got lucky and didn’t make too many fatal errors. Certain areas were a real challenge though. There was a bathroom with mirrors covering every wall and even the ceiling. I was able to show it looking through the door without too much of the iPhone showing in the tour (no way was I going to scan inside that bathroom). 

Also, one of the bedrooms had one wall completely covered with mirrors. There were only certain positions in the room that I could scan from without appearing in the mirrors. I still managed to mess it up somehow. 

When the finished tour came back, that room was a complete mess. I eliminated two scans from the room in the Capture app and resubmitted it to Matterport. I got lucky. The redone digital twin came back fine, but now you can only see into that room, you can not enter it.

What did you like about the experience? What didn’t you like?

I like how the Capture app works. Aligning the ring with the dot in order to create the image is an example of really clever programming that makes the process very efficient.

MP for iPhone

One thing I don’t like is the fact that, because the screen size on an iPhone is small (in comparison to an iPad), it is more difficult to confirm a scan position on the display. It is really important that you watch carefully as each scan position is displayed to make sure that the software has positioned it correctly. As you scan additional rooms, the display can become very crowded making it more difficult to determine the actual scan position in the space being scanned. It is helpful if you zoom in on the scan display so it is easier to see the particular area being scanned as opposed to having the whole floor displayed.

It is also helpful to zoom way in when creating mirror and window markings.

An incorrectly positioned scan in the Capture app will result in errors in the tour. This has happened to me a couple of times. I always immediately delete the scan and redo it from a slightly different position.

Do you feel that being a professional photographer helped you capture such a complete scan? 

To a certain extent, yes. A good photographer should always spend time making sure that they are capturing a pleasing composition. Some of that skill translates into deciding where in a given space you should scan from.

60 Upland Way

Do you think that realtors or homeowners would have trouble? If yes, why?

I think anyone can master the technique of shooting good Matterport tours. The question isn’t whether they are a homeowner or a realtor or even a professional photographer. It is whether they are willing to invest the time to study materials about proper Matterport technique and then practice, practice, practice to make sure that they understand how to produce good scans and how to avoid potential problems. 

There is a learning curve to creating good Matterport tours and while it is not particularly steep, it is not insignificant either. Few people are going to be able to produce acceptable tours without investing some time in learning to do them well.

I am not sure why a homeowner would want to create a tour of their home unless they are putting it on the market (in which case, hire a realtor). Additionally, I think there is probably little chance that a homeowner would take the time to learn how to create a good Matterport tour. Many FSBOs (For Sale By Owner) end up using a realtor when they are unable to sell their home on their own.

My experience dealing with dozens of realtors over the last 13 years is that some of them like to do their own photography. Some do it well, but most don’t. Most realtors tend to stick with what they know. Taking the time to learn good photography skills or good Matterport skills is probably not something that most of them are going to want to do. But, there is no reason why they couldn’t.

Using an iPhone (and I assume Android phones at some point) to create Matterport scans sounds easy. It is if you know what you are doing. It is not if you don’t. There are a lot of ways that you can mess up the finished tour. I have one house (fortunately, a friend) that I will be scanning for the third time. The previous tours were unusable. There were a number of areas where you would be on one floor and one click would take you to another floor. This is not the expected behavior. I have finally figured out what is causing the problem. The latest scan was successful.

What tips do you have for anyone who would like to try it?

An iPhone 11 is much easier to use than earlier versions of the iPhone. This is because the iPhone 11 has a wider angle lens than previous iPhones. To create one scan on an iPhone 11 requires a total of 6 images. One scan on any other iPhone requires 18 images. If you are serious about this, get an iPhone 11 or 12.

You can do these scans by holding the phone in your hands and pivoting around the phone (not pivoting the phone around you). I am sure this will work but, using a tripod is much easier in my opinion and will result in a better looking finished tour. Get a good tripod, tripod head and a phone mount to attach the phone (vertically) to the tripod head. There are many options available from Amazon or one of the online camera stores (B&H, Adorama).

The type of tripod head is important. Using a ball head or a trigger type head will work but you will end up taking a lot of extra time aligning the phone so that the Capture app can take the image. You want a tripod head that allows you to easily position the phone by pointing it lower or higher at the required angle. You should then be able to lock the phone in this position but still be able to rotate the phone/tripod head around in a circle. 

Once you have the proper up/down angle set up on the tripod head, it is very quick to simply rotate the tripod head and attached phone to take the 6 images. If you are using an earlier version of the iPhone, you will have to take 18 images, (up, middle, down) six times around in a circle.

You can never take too many individual scans for a Matterport tour. But, taking too few can cause real problems (this was the cause of the issues I had with the house I scanned three times).

Now that 3D capture is possible with an iPhone, many professional photographers question an investment in a Matterport Pro2 3D camera. What do you think?

I had the same question, so Matterport sent me a Pro2 loaner to compare the two. I have put together an extensive review that you can access here

Bottom line: The Pro2 and the iPhone are both tools. And like all tools, it is important to choose the correct one for the job at hand. 

Aesthetics are critical to selling a property, and the Dollhouse and Floor Plan views look unattractive when shot with an iPhone, so I disable them. Also, Measurement Mode isn’t as accurate as a Pro2 scan, so I turn that feature off as well so that prospects are prevented from taking digital measurements that may not be true-to-life. Finally, if you want the option of ordering 2D floor plans for clients, you can only do so with scans from a Pro2 or the Leica BLK360. 

But I highly recommend trying it out with your compatible iPhone or iPad. Just install the Matterport Capture app and open a free Matterport account. Hopefully, my review can also help you make the right decision for your business.

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