If you're already using drones for surveying, you might have stumbled upon the term "ground sample distance" (GSD).

This isn't some technical jargon – it's the secret sauce behind capturing incredibly detailed and accurate maps from your drone flights.

This article will be your guide, explaining what GSD is, how to calculate it for your specific needs, and how it ultimately translates into sharper, more precise drone maps.

So, buckle up and get ready to take your photogrammetry to the next level!

What is Ground Sample Distance (GSD)?

What is Ground Sample Distance (GSD)?

Ground Sample Distance, also known as Ground Sampling Distance, often abbreviated as GSD, refers to the distance between the centers of two consecutive pixels on the ground as captured by a drone's camera. In simpler terms, it is the actual size of one pixel on the ground.

For instance, if the GSD is 5 cm, each pixel in the image represents a 5 cm by 5 cm square on the ground. This metric is crucial because it directly impacts the level of detail and accuracy in the images and maps produced by drones.

Ground sampling distance

A common misconception is that GSD only applies to the ground surface. However, GSD is relevant to any surface captured by the drone, whether it's a building facade, a roof, or any other vertical structure.

For example, in roof inspections, the GSD is calculated based on the roof's surface area rather than the ground. This broader application is why sometimes it might be more accurate to refer to it as "surface sampling distance" rather than just ground sampling distance.


Ground sample distance

How GSD Impacts Accuracy in Drone Mapping?

How GSD Impacts Accuracy in Drone Mapping?

In drone mapping, GSD is used to quantify the spatial resolution of aerial imagery. A smaller GSD indicates higher resolution, meaning more detail is captured in the image.

Conversely, a larger GSD signifies lower resolution, with less detail visible. The GSD is determined by factors such as the altitude of the drone, the focal length of the camera, and the sensor size.

Different ground sample distance

A Comparison Table Between Low and High Ground Sample Distance:

FeatureLow GSDHigh GSD
Pixel SizeSmaller


Image DetailHigherLower
Data AccuracyHigherLower
Flight AltitudeLowerHigher
Image CaptureMore imagesFewer images
What is the Difference Between GSD and Spatial Resolution?

What is the Difference Between GSD and Spatial Resolution?

GSD and spatial resolution are often used to describe image quality and detail, but they refer to different aspects of image data.


Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) defines the size of a single pixel in an image as measured on the ground.

This metric is calculated using the sensor's focal length, sensor array dimensions, and the distance between the sensor and the ground at image capture, typically indicated by the altitude of the aircraft or satellite.

On the other hand, spatial resolution encompasses the size of pixels within an image relative to real-world objects or terrain features in focus.

Unlike GSD, which focuses on ground-level pixel dimensions, spatial resolution varies based on object distance from the sensor. Objects closer to the sensor appear more detailed, while those farther away may appear less detailed.

Measurement Focus

GSD is a direct measure of the ground distance represented by each pixel. A smaller GSD indicates a higher-resolution image, meaning more details can be discerned.

Spatial Resolution is about the sensor’s capability to distinguish between closely spaced objects. A higher spatial resolution means the sensor can detect smaller objects or details in the image.


In a scenario where the ground is flat (scenario 1), the distance (D) between the sensor and the ground is consistent across the image, resulting in equal spatial resolution and GSD throughout the scene.

However, in scenarios where objects vary in height or the image includes areas with variable surface relief (scenarios 2 and 3), spatial resolution diverges from the calculated GSD. Objects closer to the sensor exhibit higher detail, while those farther away show lower detail.

Difference between GSD and spatial resolution

Image credit: stackexchange.com

Why is GSD Important for Photogrammetry?

Why is Ground Sample Distance Important for Photogrammetry?

When it comes to transforming drone imagery into precise 3D models through photogrammetry, GSD becomes an absolute game-changer.

Accurate Measurements

A well-calculated GSD facilitates highly accurate measurements of objects on the ground. Utilizing top-quality software, surveyors can achieve measurements that are within just a few centimeters of real-world measurements.

This level of accuracy is indispensable for a wide range of high-level survey applications, including mining, earthworks, civil construction, and waste management projects.

High-Quality Models

Detailed 3D models are the lifeblood of many photogrammetry applications. A lower GSD ensures that finer features and textures are captured in the drone images. This allows photogrammetry software to reconstruct highly detailed 3D models that accurately reflect the real world.

Imagine trying to create a detailed model of a building facade – with a lower GSD, you can capture even small details like brickwork patterns or window frames, resulting in a more realistic and informative model.

Comparing Imagery

When comparing or integrating different datasets, considering GSD is crucial for ensuring consistency and accuracy. Differences in GSD can lead to misalignments and inaccuracies, highlighting the importance of maintaining GSD consistency for reliable data analysis and decision-making.

Precision Planning

The fundamental importance of GSD lies in its direct impact on survey accuracy. GSD serves as a cornerstone for surveyors to meticulously plan their drone flights.

It dictates essential parameters such as the altitude from which the camera will capture images and specific camera settings like sensor width, focal length, and image resolution.

Note: It's important to remember that GSD can be affected by variations in elevation across the survey area. For instance, flying over a large pit or a tall mound can impact the consistency of GSD across the entire model.

The flight plan of CW-007 in Jinsha river landslide

What is the Ideal Ground Sample Distance?

What is the Ideal Ground Sample Distance?

Determining the ideal Ground Sample Distance (GSD) depends on the specific application, which can be broadly categorized into two groups: mapping and inspection. The GSD required for each scenario varies based on the level of detail and accuracy needed.

Precise Mapping

A lower GSD value translates to a more accurate survey. Your survey's accuracy cannot exceed the GSD. For UAV photogrammetry, the typical GSD range falls between 1.5 to 2.5 cm/px (0.6 to 1 inch). Professional surveys often recommend a GSD of 1 cm/px for optimal accuracy, though this is quite low.

Construction Progress Monitoring

High-Detail Inspections

For tasks that require highly detailed inspections, such as analyzing cracks in a building facade, identifying individual roof shingles, or inspecting for corrosion on power lines, a lower GSD (ideally below 1 cm) is recommended. A finer GSD allows for zooming in and seeing fine features with greater clarity.

Thermal map of drone mapping

Ideal GSD Ranges for Common Applications:

ApplicationIdeal GSD RangeFocus
Facades/Roofs Inspections1 cm or lessCapture cracks, defects, material condition
Construction Site Monitoring1.5 - 2.5 cmMonitor progress, identifying potential issues
Stockpile Volume Calculations5 - 10 cmAccurately estimate stockpile volumes
Topographic Mapping1 - 5 cmMap terrain features, creating elevation models
Environmental Monitoring8 - 15 cmMonitor vegetation health, identify changes
Large Scale Urban Planning10 cmCapture broad geographic features

To achieve a high level of GSD, consider the following factors to capture more details:

  • Reduce Altitude
  • Increase Camera Sensor Resolution
  • Increase Focal Length

Achieving sub-centimeter accuracy in surveys often involves using high-resolution image sensors and integrating Post-Processed Kinematic (PPK) data.

For example, the CW-25E drone equipped with the DG10 oblique camera achieves a GSD of 3 cm (1 inch) even when flying at an altitude of 300 meters (984 feet), providing high survey accuracy.

How to Calculate Ground Sample Distance (GSD)?

How to Calculate Ground Sample Distance (GSD)?

Now that you understand the importance of Ground Sample Distance (GSD) for your drone project, let's delve into the calculation process itself. Fear not, calculating GSD is a straightforward process that can be done manually or with the help of readily available tools.

We'll use two formulas to calculate GSD for both height and width, ensuring we capture the worst-case scenario (the larger GSD value).

GSD (height) = (Flight Height in meters) x (Sensor Height in mm) / (Focal Length in mm) / (Image Height in pixels)

GSD (width) = (Flight Height in meters) x (Sensor Width in mm) / (Focal Length in mm) / (Image Width in pixels)

Data Required:

  • Sensor Width (mm): Width of your drone camera's sensor (refer to camera specifications).
  • Working Distance (m): Flight altitude for mapping missions or horizontal distance for inspections.
  • True Focal Length (mm): The actual focal length of your camera, not the 35mm equivalent (check specifications or use the formula below to calculate it).
    • Alternative Formula (if True Focal Length unavailable): True Focal Length = (0.5 * Sensor Width) / TAN((0.5 * Horizontal Field of View (HFOV)) / 57.296)
  • Image Width (pixels): Number of pixels in your camera's image resolution (found in camera settings).

If the mathematical approach isn't your cup of tea, several online GSD calculators can simplify the process. These tools often have pre-loaded specifications for popular drone models, saving you the hassle of manually entering sensor dimensions.

Additionally, some drone flight planning software like JOUAV's FlightSurv automates GSD calculations during flight planning, saving you time and effort.



What is the Difference Between GSD and GRD?

GSD refers to the size of a single pixel on the ground when you capture an image. It's a calculated value based on sensor characteristics, flight altitude, and image resolution. Imagine a grid laid over your image; the GSD represents the distance between the centers of two neighboring grid squares on the ground.

GRD (Ground Resolved Distance) represents the minimum distance between two separate objects on the ground that can still be distinguished as individual entities in your image. It's influenced by factors like GSD, atmospheric conditions, sensor resolution, and image quality. Unlike GSD, GRD is not a specific measurement but rather the smallest resolvable detail.

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