Golf Radar vs. Photo Golf Simulator Technology: What's the Difference?

Last updated Nov 06, 2023

Golf Radar vs. Photo Golf Simulator Technology: What's the Difference?

Learn the major differences between Doppler radar and Photometric launch monitor technologies and the pros and cons of each.

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Written By: Zach Gollwitzer

Posted in: Golf Simulators

Tags: Golf Nerds

If you are in the market for a golf simulator/launch monitor, there are two terms that you will quickly become familiar with:

  1. Radar-based launch monitors
  2. Photo-based launch monitors

In this short post, we'll explore the differences between the two and why it matters for your purchasing decision.

How radar and photo systems work

How do Radar-based golf simulators work?

We'll start with radar-based systems, which is formally called "Doppler Radar". This well-known technology is used across various industries:

  • Military surveillance, target detection, and missile defense
  • Weather surveillance
  • Air traffic control and aviation
  • Sports analysis (like golf launch monitors)

This technology works by emitting radio/radar signals through the air, which will bounce off a flying golf ball.

The system will measure the change in wave frequencies bouncing off the golf ball to calculate the ball's speed, launch angle, direction, spin, and more.

How do Photo-based golf simulators work?

Photo systems, or more formally, "photometric" systems work by taking hundreds of photos per second using high-speed cameras.

These photos are then fed as inputs through various computer vision algorithms to calculate similar data points as the radar-based systems.

Photo-based systems rely on unique characteristics of the golf ball, which is often why stripes or dots on the ball are required for maximum accuracy.

Pros and Cons of Radar vs. Photo Golf Launch Monitors

Which technology is more accurate?

In general, radar-based systems provide the most accurate data points. Trackman, arguably the most accurate launch monitor in golf uses Doppler Radar as its primary technology.

This accuracy comes from a few factors:

  1. Higher sampling rates - Radar systems typically have higher sampling rates compared to camera-based systems. Higher sampling rates provide more data points during the ball's flight, leading to greater accuracy in calculating launch angle, spin rate, and other parameters.
  2. Less sensitive to environmental factors - Radar systems are less sensitive to environmental factors such as lighting, shadows, and ball visibility. Photometric systems may encounter challenges when the lighting conditions change, impacting the camera's ability to track the ball consistently.
  3. Direct measurement of velocity - Radar systems directly measure the velocity of the golf ball using the Doppler effect. When radar waves bounce off the moving ball, the frequency of the returned waves changes based on the ball's speed. This direct measurement provides precise and real-time data on the ball's velocity, allowing for accurate calculation of parameters like ball speed and spin rate.

Due to the high degree of accuracy, radar-based systems like Trackman can be optimal tools for club fittings.

Which technology provides a better simulation experience?

While both types of launch monitors can be used for fully-featured indoor golf simulators (many use a combination of the two technologies), in general, photometric systems are the best for simulation purposes for several reasons:

  1. Detailed Club and Impact Data: Photometric systems can capture the movement of the golf club and clubhead during the swing. This information provides detailed data on clubhead speed, face angle, and swing path, which can be accurately translated into the virtual simulation, influencing shot behavior and outcome.
  2. Interaction with Course Elements: Photometric systems can detect how the ball interacts with the virtual course elements, such as grass, sand, or water hazards. This allows for realistic ball reactions and roll on the virtual green or fairway.
  3. Enhanced Graphics and Animation: The detailed data collected by photometric systems allows for more realistic graphics and animations in the virtual golf simulation. This helps create a more immersive and engaging experience for the user.

Which system is better for outdoor use?

One area where radar-based systems like Trackman excel is measuring data points in a wide variety of conditions.

Since this type of system is not relying on a high-quality set of images that might be affected by various lighting conditions, it often does better in outdoor scenarios.

Which system costs more?

This is a loaded question because in many cases, the launch monitor might have a combination of technologies at play simultaneously.

For example, Flightscope's patented "Fusion Tracking" technology is a combination of radar and image processing.

In general radar-based systems will cost more, but you will often find this rule broken in the golf simulator world. For example, one of the most affordable options on the market is the Mevo launch monitor, which is primarily a radar-based launch monitor.

Which is easier to use?

In general, a radar-based system will be easier to use and setup. While it is important to place a radar system the correct distance behind the ball, there is not much more to setup.

With photometric systems, there is often a lengthier calibration process, which may include adding unique dots or line markings to all your golf balls and placing the launch monitor in the perfect spot next to the ball.

Which requires more space?

A radar system will often require more space and usually needs to be placed 6-8' behind the golf ball. For indoor setups, this can be a constraint and reason to choose a photometric launch monitor instead.

Below, you can see a typical radar-based simulator setup. Notice how the launch monitor sits behind the ball.

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In contrast, below is an example of a photo-based simulator setup where the launch monitor sits directly next to the golf ball.

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Many golfers choose a photo-based launch monitor for indoor home golf simulator setups because it requires less width and depth of the space, often presents more affordable options, and is optimized for great simulation experiences.

What are some examples of radar and photometric launch monitors?

Many of the radar-based launch monitors below also have a photometric element to them.

Radar Golf Simulator Examples

  • Flightscope Mevo
  • Flightscope Mevo Plus
  • Flightscope
  • Trackman
  • Garmin R10

Photometric Golf Simulator Examples

  • SkyTrak
  • Uneekor EYE MINI
  • Foresight GC3
  • Foresight GCQuad

If you are in the market for a home golf simulator setup, I recommend reading my Ultimate Guide to Buying a Home Golf Simulator

About the author: Zach Gollwitzer

Zach Gollwitzer profile picture

Hey, I‘m Zach, the founder of The DIY Golfer! I created this site while playing D1 collegiate golf with a simple mission—I wanted to learn the golf swing and get better at golf myself.

Fast forward a few years, and my “journal“, The DIY Golfer, has been viewed by millions of golfers worldwide looking to do the same with their games. my mission is to make golfers more consistent in just a few hours a week through advanced practice strategies and timeless, first-principle golf instruction.