Scientists planning to use underwater stereoscopic image technologies are often faced with numerous problems during the methodological implementations: commercial equipment is too expensive; the setup or calibration is too complex; or the imaging processing (i.e. measuring objects in the stereo-images) is too complicated to be performed without a time-consuming phase of training and evaluation. The present paper addresses some of these problems and describes a workflow for stereoscopic measurements for marine biologists. It also provides instructions on how to assemble an underwater stereo-photographic system with two digital consumer cameras and gives step-by-step guidelines for setting up the hardware. The second part details a software procedure to correct stereo-image pairs for lens distortions, which is especially important when using cameras with non-calibrated optical units. The final part presents a guide to the process of measuring the lengths (or distances) of objects in stereoscopic image pairs. To reveal the applicability and the restrictions of the described systems and to test the effects of different types of camera (a compact camera and an SLR type), experiments were performed to determine the precision and accuracy of two generic stereo-imaging units: a diver-operated system based on two Olympus Mju 1030SW compact cameras and a cable-connected observatory system based on two Canon 1100D SLR cameras. In the simplest setup without any correction for lens distortion, the low-budget Olympus Mju 1030SW system achieved mean accuracy errors (percentage deviation of a measurement from the object’s real size) between 10.2 and –7.6% (overall mean value: –0.6%), depending on the size, orientation and distance of the measured object from the camera. With the single lens reflex (SLR) system, very similar values between 10.1% and –3.4% (overall mean value: –1.2%) were observed. Correction of the lens distortion significantly improved the mean accuracy errors of either system. Even more, system precision (spread of the accuracy) improved significantly in both systems. Neither the use of a wide-angle converter nor multiple reassembly of the system had a significant negative effect on the results. The study shows that underwater stereophotography, independent of the system, has a high potential for robust and non-destructive in situ sampling and can be used without prior specialist training.
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