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What is Image Processing?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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Image processing is a physical process used to convert an image signal, either digital or analog, into a physical image. The actual output itself can be an actual physical image or the characteristics of an image. The most common type is photography, in which an image is captured using a camera to create a digital or analog image. In order to produce a physical picture, the image is processed using the appropriate technology based on the input source type.

In digital photography, the image is stored as a computer file. This file is translated using photographic software to generate an actual image. The colors, shading, and nuances are all captured at the time the photograph is taken, and the software translates this information into an image.

When creating images using analog photography, the image is burned into a film using a chemical reaction triggered by controlled exposure to light. It is processed in a darkroom, using special chemicals to create the actual image. This process is decreasing in popularity due to the advent of digital photography, which requires less effort and special training to produce photos.

In addition to photography, there are a wide range of other image processing operations. The field of digital imaging has created a whole range of new applications and tools that were previously impossible, including face recognition, medical imaging. and remote sensing. Specialized computer programs are used to enhance and correct images. These programs apply algorithms to the actual data and are able to reduce signal distortion, clarify fuzzy images, and add light to an underexposed image.

Digital image processing techniques were first developed in 1960 through the collaboration of a wide range of scientists and academics. The main focus of their work was to develop medical imaging and character recognition, and to create high quality images at the microscopic level. During this period, equipment and processing costs were prohibitively high.

The financial constraints had a serious impact on the depth and breadth of technology development that could be done. By the 1970s, computing equipment costs had dropped substantially, making digital processing more realistic. Film and software companies invested significant funds into the development and enhancement of this technology, creating a new industry.

There are three major benefits to digital image processing: a consistently high quality of the image, a low cost of processing, and the ability to manipulate all aspects of the process. As long as computer processing speed continues to increase while the cost of storage memory continues to drop, the field is likely to grow.

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Discussion Comments
By lmorales — On Jul 28, 2010

@doppler - The digital switch for television requires a box where as analog would normally have been an antenna. You're right in that some analog outlets still exist, though not many people are looking for that right now. However, it is a cheaper alternative and some people will even argue that "cable" television is the digital aspect whereas just having the digital box is still considered as analog.

By doppler — On Jul 28, 2010

Image processing is (of course) most prominent in television and movie applications where the image or motion picture is transmitted to your home television set. While this article states that image processing can be analog or digital, as far as television applications go now, most of us are all digital. Analog image processing still exists, though there's no real desire for it since the conversion.

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