New York City gets fresh 3D Imagery

Google’s “3D Imagery” has finally arrived in the largest city in the United States — New York!


As with other cites that have this new imagery, it looks stunning from the air but looks blocky when you get down low.


In all of the cities we’ve seen so far, flat surfaces like roads simply aren’t flat.  That’s likely due to the fact that streets are covered with vehicles when the imagery is captured, but it makes for poor viewing in Google Earth.  Over time I expect this flaw will be remedied by Google, perhaps when combined with Street View imagery to get better-looking roads and facades.

In fact, the lifelike facades that Google added back in 2010 were one of my favorite features as they made cities really come to life!  New York in particular was absolutely amazing with those facades, as it made it very realistic.  Now those facades are gone and it’s quite a mess when you dive down to street-level view.  As an example, below are two pictures of Times Square using the old and new imagery:

It’s really kind of sad.  However, I see this as being similar to the early days of the digital camera.  Some people laughed at them because they were so inferior to standard cameras in terms of quality, but the technology was the difference and the quality caught up.  Google’s bet seems to be that their techniques for the 3D Imagery will improve over time and make it worthwhile.  Plus, they’re clearly going to keep pushing Street View so I’d be surprised if the two don’t meet up again at some point in the future.  Using the 3D Imagery to create the models and then applying Street View imagery to smooth things out at the ground level could work very well.

For now, enjoy the scenic New York skyline but switch back to “legacy 3D buildings” (under [Tools] –> [Options]) if you want to zoom in close.

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. The quality of 3D mapping is inevitably going to get better. Google already have the technology to make their 3D cities look more refined and a lot less messy than they currently are. They’ve already applied some of their new techniques on San Francisco, which explains why San Fran’s 3D buildings look a lot cleaner than the other places. So Google already have this technology but I think their first priority is to make most of the popular cities around the world 3D. Then they’ll slowly improve all of them with occasional updates. In short, the technology is definitely available to Google but they’re just taking their sweet time with it.

    But I didn’t expect them to tackle New York so soon. I thought they’ll go with the smaller cities first and refine them before they move on to the larger and more difficult places. I really thought they were going to update Washington DC first.

  2. Hi, I’m having trouble finding a complete list of the places in Google Earth that have 3D Imagery.
    Any chance you can put a page/tab on that records the cities?
    Can probably could also record when the cities were added to GE, and when the imagery was captured. I find Google’s data a little miss-leading sometimes. But locals should have no problems tying it down to a specific month.
    Eventually this should be too cumbersome to maintain, but for the moment the 3D Imagery is a bit of a novelty (1 or 2 new ones a month) and I’d like to know which places to go check out!

  3. Here’s some video of Manhattan from the recent update that illustrates how nicely the sun’s lighting effects work with the new 3D building imagery and improved atmospheric capabilities of Google Earth 7:

  4. Arcangel Micahel 2 says

    Google street view still updates? ?????????

  5. Coldsnap says

    The auto-generated maps are SO much cheaper and faster to produce, I’m ok with the street-level quality trade-off. Also, auto-generated maps capture foliage in a way that was previously almost impossible. Hoping for higher resolutions later on though.

  6. What are the chances that we could get a masking feature that could be applied to models developed in Sketchup so that we could apply a polygon mask on an area to turn off the new 3D within the masked area. This way we could have the best of both. We could have the new 3D auto generated layer, with masked areas that we could insert our building models and vegetation on the old imagery without having generated buildings and vegetation pushing through the buildings.

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      I can’t speak on behalf of Google, but I don’t think something like that is going to happen. It is a good idea and would be very useful.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.