The Chain that Binds Us

New insights into the image formation process.

01 April 2016
Eddie L. Jacobs

Has the imaging chain become the old ball and chain? Does your love of the image-formation process need a little something to rekindle the spark?

Instead of searching the self-help section on Amazon, might I suggest you take a look at the article “Radiance and photon noise: imaging in geometrical optics, physical optics, quantum optics and radiology” by Luca Caucci, SPIE Fellow Kyle J. Myers, and SPIE member Harrison Barrett in the January 2016 issue of Optical Engineering. The article appears in a special section on techniques for structural health monitoring.

Coming from medical imaging backgrounds, the authors examine the imaging chain from several perspectives. They develop the radiance concept in geometrical, physical, and quantum optical domains and the governing conservation laws.

They then examine the fundamental relationship between radiance and noise in imaging systems for integrating, photon counting, and photon-processing detector types. Photon-processing detectors and the concepts related to them are increasingly being employed in light-field cameras and other advanced imaging systems.

Diagram shows that radiance in a homogeneous medium is a line integral of a volumetric source that does not absorb or scatter its own radiation. The cross indicates the origin of coordinates for the three 3D position vectors.

The authors conclude with a discussion of the information content of a photon and image quality as they relate to radiance and noise.

Barrett, who received the 2011 SPIE Gold Medal for a lifetime of contributions to imaging science, and Caucci are on the faculty at University of Arizona (USA). Myers, a UA graduate who works at the US Food and Drug Administration, and Barrett, were the first recipients of the Joseph W. Goodman Book Writing Award for their 2003 book, Foundations of Image Science (John Wiley & Sons, 2003).

I found this article gave me some new insight into the image formation process and some great ideas to pursue in my lab. Taking a fresh look at the imaging chain was a great way to begin a new year of optical engineering. Give it a read!


– SPIE Fellow Eddie L. Jacobs of University of Memphis is a member of the Optical Engineering editorial board.

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