3D virtual tours are a very popular service that agents ask for and they are a great additional service that we as real estate photographers can offer to increase our earnings. Diversifying your services is a subject I get into in another video I posted called “Maximizing Your Earnings as a Real Estate Photographer” that you can view here:
3D tours have exploded in popularity over the past year with this pandemic going on with people trying to be safe and not going into other people’s homes unnecessarily. With that high demand, I think a lot of agents have realized the value of these 3D tours and will continue to order them in the future. So in other words, I definitely think this a service to have in your tool kit and be able to offer your clients. I think one of the most threatening things to your business relationship with your client is them asking for a service that you don’t offer and they have to go elsewhere. That could result in them working with someone else instead of you that offers all the services they may need.
In this post, I’m going to break down Matterport 3D virtual tours by getting into the different cameras that you can use to create them, the different pricing plans they offer and a real world demonstration on making one. Alright so let’s get into it and first talk about the equipment you’ll need to get started making Matterport 3D tours.
So the gear you will need is some sort of support like a tripod (which you probably already have for your regular camera), a compatible 360 degree camera and your phone or an iPad to run the Matterport app on. There’s a few options you can choose as far as cameras and support goes and we will go through those now. First let’s talk about support options.
So I personally just use my regular camera tripod setup to support my 360 camera most of the time. It’s stable and works great and it’s a piece of gear I already own and have with me all of the time. No extra gear to purchase or carry around. The only real downside to using your tripod is that is that it’s big and bulky and can be a bit annoying to move around the house but that’s a small gripe in my opinion as I’m already used to doing that for when I’m taking regular photos.
We will get into cameras in a minute, but If you are using the big and bulky Matterport Pro2 camera then the tripod is necessary to support that but if you are using one of the tiny 360 cameras like the Ricoh Theta Z1 then you don’t necessarily need a big tripod to support it. I still like to use my tripod for the Theta but some people decide to go with something smaller and lighter such as a monopod or a light stand. My problem with these is that they aren’t as stable, easier to knock over and they are more difficult to safely position them on stairs. With a tripod you can adjust the leg height and maintain great stability even on the stairs so that’s not really a concern.
Ok now let’s discuss cameras. The compatible cameras with Matterport are the following:
Insta360 One R
Insta360 One X
Ricoh Theta V
Ricoh Theta Z1
Matterport Pro2 Camera
We can pretty much eliminate two of these cameras off the list right off the bat. I’ve never personally even tried using an iPhone but without getting too in depth about it I really just don’t believe that its a professional solution to making 3D tours. I think it's really just there for you to try out Matterport for free and get an idea of what it's like. The other camera we can eliminate is the Leica. I’m sure it's great but it costs a whopping $18,000! No thanks.
So that leaves the Insta360 cameras, the Ricoh Theta cameras and the Matterport Pro2 Camera. The highest image quality and accuracy out of these cameras is the Matterport Pro2 but it's also the most expensive at almost $3400. Matterport also states that it has an accuracy rate of within 1% versus the 360 cameras that have an accuracy of within 4-8%. One of the advantages of the Matterport camera is that you can create floor plans from your scans which you cannot do with the 360 cameras probably because of these accuracy rates. I used to create floor plans with the Matterport camera but this has become a non-issue for me now as I use CubiCasa to create floor plans these days which is super fast and easy. I posted a video recently on CubiCasa that I will link to up on the screen now. If you do a ton of Matterport tours for your business then I think that would justify the cost of the Matterport Pro2 camera but if you are just starting out in this area or only do a few virtual tours here and there then I think one of the 360 cameras are definitely the way to go.
When it comes to the 360 cameras, the best of the bunch in my opinion is the Ricoh Theta Z1. This would be my number 1 recommendation out of all these cameras (including the Matterport Pro2) because I think it's the best blend of value and image quality. The Theta Z1 comes in at about $1,000 which is a decent amount of money but the image quality is almost indiscernible from the Matterport Pro2 camera and it’s less than a third of the cost!
The Theta Z1 has impressive image quality for such a little camera. It has dual 1” sensors which are the largest sensors out of all of these 360 cameras and hence the best image quality. It also scans considerably faster than the Matterport camera which is a huge plus because it can get you done on site much faster. Probably the main downside of the Theta is the battery life. If you are doing more than one property during the day or if you are doing a very large property then you will probably run out of battery. Luckily there is a solution to this. They make this little two inch extender to raise the camera above the tripod that will give you access to the ports on the bottom so you can then attach a USB power bank to the camera which should provide you with plenty of power for the day. Thank you to one of my Patreon supporters for turning me on to that tip!
The remaining 360 cameras all basically fall into the $400-$500 range. I don’t personally have any experience with using any of them myself mainly because I just don’t think the image quality is quite up to snuff from what I’ve seen online. I would highly recommend spending the extra money for the Theta Z1. That said I think the Insta360 One X would come next followed by the Theta V and lastly the Insta360 One R.
So to sum this all up, I think the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the way to go as far as camera choice goes and just using your regular camera tripod to support it so you’re not buying and carrying around more gear than is necessary. The Theta Z1 has great image quality that rivals the Matterport Pro2 camera, it’s less than a third of the cost, It’s very small and easy to carry around and it scans considerably faster than the Matterport camera. In some ways I’d actually say it's better than the Matterport camera and it’s way cheaper.
Matterport offers 4 pricing plans that are pretty straightforward. First is the free plan which is really just there so you can try it out and get a feel for what it’s all about. It will host only one active space but you can only view it privately yourself and isn’t shareable online so you can’t use it for a client or something like that.
Next is the Starter Plan for $9.99 a month and as the name suggests, this would be the plan I would suggest starting out with. It supports the 360 cameras such as the Theta Z1 and will allow 1 user and up to 5 active spaces. You can’t use the Matterport Pro2 camera with this plan or have access to extra features like floor plan creation. As I stated earlier, not a big deal for me as I don’t use them for floor plans anyway. So obviously it makes the most sense to stick with this plan until you outgrow the 5 active spaces it gives you. No point in paying for a more expensive plan until you have a reason to.
Above that is the Professional Plan for $69 a month. Once you outgrow the Starter Plan this is where you will most likely eventually end up as it allows for 25 active spaces and up to 5 users. It supports all cameras including the 360 cameras and the Matterport Pro2 camera so if you want to use the Matterport camera this would be the cheapest plan available for that. It also gives you access to other features like floor plans.
Finally we have the Business Plan for $309 a month. It’s quite a big jump in price from the $69 Professional Plan. It allows for 100 active spaces and 20 users. Obviously this plan would be ideal for those that do a lot of volume for virtual tours and are maybe running a team of photographers that are out shooting everyday. It of course supports all the cameras and all the features as it is the most expensive plan they offer.
So again, I would definitely say the starter plan is the way to go in the beginning for $9.99 a month and only upgrade if you have to because you’ve run out of active spaces. The only reason to start out with the professional plan out of the gate is if you want to use the Matterport Pro2 camera as it’s not supported by the starter plan. I’m personally not a huge fan of these subscription plans and would prefer more of an a la carte approach where you could just pay per active space for a given amount of time and extend that amount of time if necessary. There are so many things that are a subscription service these days and it's kind of annoying having all these monthly subscriptions but it is what it is I guess.
DOING A SCAN
Now I’m going to take you through doing a scan and share with you some tips that I’ve learned over the years creating Matterport virtual tours. The process is pretty straightforward but there’s definitely ways to be more efficient about it and save you time on site. Alright, let’s get into it.
First thing is to obviously get your 360 camera onto your tripod or whatever support you are using. I have the camera at about shoulder height. Power up the camera and make sure it is in WiFi mode. Next, open the Matterport app on your phone or whatever device you may be using and press the plus button to start a new scan. You can put the address information in on the following screen and then continue on the main scanning screen. Here you will just want to make sure that your camera is connected and if not then go to the settings on your phone and connect to your camera via WiFi. Now we are ready to start scanning.
I usually do my first scan by the front door and start building from there. It’s not necessary to start there but that’s just my preference. Now just get out of the way so the camera doesn’t see you and press the scan button and your first scan will appear on the screen. Once it appears then you can preview the scan by tapping on it. Now you can move your tripod to its next position for your second scan. The camera needs a certain amount of overlapping data to stitch your scans together so you want to make sure scans aren’t super far apart and that there is a clear view from one point to the next without a lot of obstructions in the way. If there isn’t enough overlapping data the app will notify you of an alignment error and you’ll have to move the tripod closer to where the previous scan was in order to rectify it. Now it’s just a matter of repeating this process until you scan all the rooms on the current floor that you are on.
Now we are ready to move to the second level of the home so let’s talk about scanning the staircase. I start by doing a scan right at the bottom of the stairs. Now in order to scan on the staircase itself, I’ll shorten one of the tripod legs and keep the other two extended so that my tripod and camera will remain level when I place it down on the stairs. It's always not a bad idea to check that your camera is level from time to time while scanning by the way. Now you would just scan up the staircase moving the tripod up every 4 or 5 stairs or so until you reach the second level.
Once you reach the landing of the second level you will want to add a new floor. Press the floors button in the bottom right corner and add the second floor and name it whatever you like. Now you will have a blank screen like you had when you first started and now you can start scanning the second floor just like you did for the first.
One other thing that you need to be aware of is what Matterport refers to as “marking features” such as windows and mirrors. Windows and especially mirrors can trip things up a bit so Matterport wants to know where these things are. You just tap on the button for whatever feature you need to mark in the bottom right and then use your finger to mark out that particular feature. Just make sure the arrow is pointing to the inside of the room.
As I said, this process is pretty straightforward but now let me share a few tips that I’ve picked up while doing these. First, when transitioning from one room to another I almost always do a scan right within the door jamb between both rooms. This helps the camera pick up portions of both rooms so it’s easier for it to stitch both areas together and avoid alignment issues. Another tip is to plan out your scans on natural pathways throughout the home like someone would be walking through the space. It just gives the scan a more realistic experience. Also, be more efficient with your scans and avoid any unnecessary scanning. You don’t need to scan every corner of every room. You may just need to scan one side of the room. Just preview your scans and make sure you can see everything that needs to be seen and that's what's important. It’s also a good strategy to do your scans at junctions like in front of doorways or hallway entrances that can lead in multiple directions. Again, this is just about being efficient and avoiding unnecessary scans and getting your job done quicker.
Once you have finished scanning everything there are just a couple more things that need to be done. Firstly, just make sure your floors are in the proper order. Next, double check that you marked all of your windows and mirrors. Now you need to mark out your trim lines for each floor. Trim is one of the features you can select in the bottom right corner. Select it and draw trim lines around the perimeter of each floor that will trim anything beyond the borders of your model. Finally, just press the upload button and upload your model.
Once your model has been uploaded and processed you can then sign into your Matterport account on your computer to access it. There you can edit certain features like where you want your starting point to be. I like mine to start at the front entrance of the house so I usually choose that scan for my starting point. Also they give you the ability to download some screen capture photos and little videos. Personally I’ve never used these for anything. Most importantly you’ll find the link to share the model with your client so they can implement it wherever they need to.