Dynamic Range of RAW digital sensor data

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by Gisle Hannemyr, Jan 20, 2007.

  1. I am looking for hard data on the dynamic range of different digital
    sensors, such as the sensors used in the Canon EOS 5D and Nikon D200.

    I've found a lot of articles that is some way or another shows how
    photon counts corresponds to RAW imager output values, such as the
    diagram on this page:

    However, the diagram only shows the relationship between the number of
    photons in a (hypothetical) image sensor and output DN /data numberss/
    (presumably between 0 and 4096) on a log scale, which does not really
    reveal what the input luminosity was.

    I've also found some articles that reports on various dynamic range
    measurements /after/ gamma and tone curve adjustments has been applied
    to the data, which don't necessarily tell you what the dynamic range
    was before applying the adjustments.

    I am loking for is this kind of data (either numbers or diagrams)
    for real sensors, and data that shows the relationship between
    a spesific photon count and a specific real world luminance
    or EV (at the image sensor's "native" sensitivity).

    I've checked my library and searched the web, but to no avail.
    Do anyone know about a good source for this type of data?
    Gisle Hannemyr, Jan 20, 2007
    1. Advertisements

  2. Gisle Hannemyr

    Alan Browne Guest

    Did you look at Roger Clarke's site? I seem to recall it is quite
    detailed in this regard, and may include the specifics you're looking for.
    Alan Browne, Jan 20, 2007
    1. Advertisements

  3. Yes, for instance "Dynamic Range and Transfer Functions of Digital
    Images and Comparison to Film":
    - and a number of related pages linked to from that page,

    The title is of course promising, but unless I am missing something,
    the data he reports for both scene and output intensity are
    /data numbers/ (i.e. the numeric values of the pixels in his
    image files) before and after RAW conversion, which AFAIK don't reveal
    actual scene luminosity.
    Gisle Hannemyr, Jan 20, 2007
  4. Gisle Hannemyr

    Scott W Guest

    Roger uses linear data, I don't know which converter he is using to do
    this but I do know he is looking at
    linear data for each channel before it has been de-mosaiced

    Scott W, Jan 20, 2007
  5. I states that he uses "Canon conversion software".
    His input numbers (Scene intensity) are obviously linear data, but he
    don't pause to tell you what his SN numbers mean in terms of real
    world light (expressed in e.g. EV, foot-candles or LUX) or the
    gamma of the sensor data.

    For instance, if you look at figure 7 in his "dynamicrange2"-paper,
    you'll find than 100 DN "scene intensity" is converted into 1000 DN
    "output intensity" by the Canon converter.

    I can't see how this translates into real life dynamic range without
    knowing what 100 DN means in terms of light, or - at least - the
    native gamma of the sensor he pulls these data from.
    Gisle Hannemyr, Jan 21, 2007
  6. Gisle Hannemyr wrote:

    The sensor is linear - gamma = 1

    There may be some black level offset, though, so the best-fit equation is
    likely to be y = Ax + B, where B is quite small. Of course, the lens
    aperture, transmission, light spectrum etc. would all come into working
    out light-levels from DN.

    David J Taylor, Jan 21, 2007
  7. Unfortunately such hard data is not available unless you find the
    manufacturer's data-sheet of the sensor. And if you do find such a
    data-sheet then you must calculate the effect of photon shot noise in to
    the specified properties since all the sensor manufacturers ignore the
    photon shot noise totally.

    Sensor manufacturers simply calculate the dynamic range as:
    The full well capacity in electrons in divided by the noise electrons
    that are induced by the sensor. This is the proper definition for many
    other instrumentation but not for any instrumentation that measures
    light (photons).

    Light has the property called photon shot noise (also called as the
    Poisson noise) and the quantity of this noise is the square of the
    electrons (electrons are those photons that gets detected).

    In photographic sense the sensor manufacturer's definition of the
    dynamic range is the same as a shooting situation where an object
    surface in the scene is captured by the camera in such way that the
    camera records the surface at the maximum output level (255 in 8-bit/c
    notation) but there is not a single photon reflecting from that surface
    (so it appears to be absolutely black). Obviously such definition and
    specification of the dynamic range is nonsense.

    For example, the true dynamic range for a full well that has the
    capacity of 50000 electron is sqrt(50000) or 223:1, due to the photon
    shot noise. Those noises that the sensor manufacturers regard as noises
    then decrease this further. In other words the true dynamic range of a
    light sensing sensor can never be equal to the square root of the full
    well capacity in electrons. It can be rather close to that in case the
    sensor induced noises are very small (this is the case with actively
    cooled sensors that are often used in scientific applications).

    Not all that 233:1 dynamic range is usable since we do not accept such
    image information as _useful image information_ that has signal to noise
    ratio of sqrt(1) or 1:1.

    E.g. at 16 electrons the signal to noise ratio is just 4:1 due to the
    photon shot noise only, such image information looks _very_ bad, very
    noisy. But if we do accept that then a sensor that has full well
    capacity of 50000 electrons has _useful_ dynamic range of 233/4 or
    58.25:1 or 5.9 f/stops only.

    Now then, the task of measuring the dynamic range of a digital camera is
    incredibly a difficult one.

    One major error source are the internal reflections: Between the
    individual lenses of the camera lens, between the blur-filter and the
    surface of the exit lens of the camera lens, between the blur filter and
    the sensor, and inside the sensor compartment.

    These reflections create a more or less diffuse fog of light that adds
    to the measurement so in the dark end the measurement will be way
    incorrect. What happens is that when testing the dynamic range e.g.
    using a Stouffer step wedge even the 3.0D patch _seems_ to get recorded,
    the camera _seems_ to output some signal for the 3.0D patch but the
    reality is that the signal is mostly from the fog. But people happily go
    and announce that the dynamic range is more than 3.0D or more than
    1000:1 or more than 9.966 f/stops. These reflections are one of the main
    reasons for the incorrect/unrealistic high DR test results that can be
    found on the Web.

    An other major error source is the noise reduction, some of it is
    performed already before the raw data is written. The noise reduction
    has the effect that even if a camera seem to detect some signal for a
    very dark, large, uniform patch of a step wedge, it can not deliver fine
    structured image detail that reside at equally low luminance levels, the
    noise reduction algorithms will clean such fine structured image detail
    away. So, such signal is not inside the useful dynamic range of the
    camera nor inside the true dynamic range of the camera. Unless the
    camera is only used for recording such large uniform surface areas like
    the patches of the step wedge.

    Timo Autiokari
    Timo Autiokari, Jan 21, 2007
  8. Mr. Clark is using the same totally incorrect dynamic range definition
    that sensor manufactures use in their marketing. Ignoring the photon
    shot noise totally. He claims:

    --> "Further image analysis shows at least 10.6 stops are recorded
    --> by the canon 1D Mark II camera (the full range of of detail in
    --> this image, Other testing of the noise level versus intensity
    --> shows the Canon 1D Mark II has 11.7 stops of dynamic range.

    In order to have a photographically acquired image that truly holds 11.7
    stops scene dynamic range one has to have full well capacity of 11
    million electrons due to the photon shot noise alone. That in case of an
    ideal sensor, some electrons more in order to overcome the noises of a
    real sensor.

    11.7 stops == 2^11.7 == 3327:1 in linear quantity. 3327^2 == 11068929
    electrons or 11.07 million electrons full well.

    And 10.6 stops == 2^10.6 == 1552:1 in linear quantity, 1551^2 ==
    2408704 electrons or 2.4 million electrons full well.

    These "results" are _enormously_ incorrect, because of the incorrect
    definition of the dynamic range.

    Also, the definition of dynamic range goes down to S/N ratio of 1:1 or
    1/sqr(1). The image information at signal level of 1 electron is not
    usable at all,, the S/N ratio of 1:1 just happens to be part of the
    definition of dynamic range. In case N electrons are required for
    acceptable S/N level then sqr(N) must be subtracted from the DR that is
    expressed in stops. Assuming ideal sensor, more in case of real sensor.

    BTW: For the material on the above linked page Mr. Clark was using
    Polaroid SprintScan 4000 scanner, that has way lesser dynamic range than
    any film.

    Timo Autiokari
    Timo Autiokari, Jan 21, 2007
  9. "David J Taylor":
    Of course. Silly of me, gamma is a red herring.
    I just can't make sense of his DN numbers.

    If we look at fig. 8a, in "Dynamic Range and Transfer Functions of
    Digital Images and Comparison to Film":
    [ http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/dynamicrange2/ ]
    he says that "the digital camera keeps going to the bottom
    end of data below 70 DN", and then refers to his "black hole
    in the scene measured at 19 DN,

    Well, the data in the black hole is obviously consisting of noise only
    (black current noise?) so the noise floor must lie above that. From
    the scatter plot in fig. 8a, it looks like the his data for the
    1DII stretches from 70 DN to 70000 DN on the logarithmic scene scale.
    I.e. he have a scatter plot showing a 1000:1 linear ratio. This
    is about equal to 10 EV (or stops). But in the text, he claims that
    this data demonstrates a 11.7 stop dynamic range!

    He is obviously interpreting the data different than me, but how
    he interprets them is beyond me.
    Gisle Hannemyr, Jan 21, 2007
  10. Gisle Hannemyr wrote:
    I find the fig. 8a graph somewhat confusing, particularly (a) having "the
    human eye" response on there and (b) missing the major grid lines for
    scene intensity. I want to be able to compare the digital camera to a
    straight-line through the origin, and figure 8a doesn't easily allow this.

    It does show that my "linear" response was incorrect, because of some
    deliberate "smooth clipping" at the higher end to allow for a higher
    dynamic range. It's unclear where this is happening - it must be in the
    RAW to Image conversion. So it's a function of the software.

    Two points of detail:

    - He doesn't say the black-hole is at 19 DN, but that the noise measured
    19 DN.

    - He doesn't say that the data he shows here demonstrated 11.7 stops
    range, but that "Other testing of the noise level versus intensity shows
    the Canon 1D Mark II has 11.7 stops of dynamic range."

    There is plenty of scope for explaining all this in a number of different
    ways, as some will approach if from film photography, some from the
    physics, some from digital signal processing, and others from a human
    vision characterisation!

    David J Taylor, Jan 21, 2007
  11. Gisle Hannemyr

    eawckyegcy Guest

    Clark is correct as per standard engineering practice. Any "marketing"
    information derived from such is also correct.
    Yes. He also ignored the phase of the Moon as well. And why not? It
    is not relevant. The DR is a measure of how the system responds to its
    input, from the minimum discernable signal up until compression
    (however defined).
    Ignoring the incorrect mathematics, your progression from a
    dimensionless number to a physical unit is most hilarious...
    eawckyegcy, Jan 22, 2007
  12. Gisle Hannemyr

    eawckyegcy Guest

    http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/evaluation-1d2/ has a table that
    shows 11.6 stops at ISO 100. The read-noise at this ISO is 13
    electrons; the "minimum discernable signal" is subject to definition,
    and it appears Clark has defined it to 1 stddev over that distribution:
    13 + sqrt(13) == 16 electrons. The 1D2, like all cameras worth
    owning, is virtually linear all the way until the pixel is full of
    electrons, some 53000 in this case. So the DR is then simple enough:
    log(compressed_signal/minimum_signal)/log(2) == log(53000/16)/log(2) ==
    11.7 stops.
    eawckyegcy, Jan 22, 2007
  13. The above is almost correct, should be "...up until clipping".

    The way the DR is most often expressed by the manufactures of imaging
    sensor (the same way that also Mr. Clark define it) is _not_ according
    to your own above statement.

    The full well capacity divided by the sensor noises is not at all the
    same as "how the system responds to its input". The input is light.

    This "DR" (the full well capacity divided by the sensor noises) has no
    direct relation with the f/stop range of the scene that the camera is
    able to capture. The only thing that can be derived from such "DR" value
    is that the true dynamic range of the system is always _much_ lesser.
    It would be very beneficial for you to study the issue a little. Just
    google "photon shot noise" gets you started very well.

    Timo Autiokari
    Timo Autiokari, Jan 22, 2007
  14. Gisle Hannemyr

    eawckyegcy Guest

    Serves me right to assume you are capable of abstraction.

    In most systems, there is a fair amount of gain compression prior to
    hitting the power supply rails ("clipping"). Optical sensors are
    something of an exception to this rule: they are staunchly linear
    until the pixel saturates. Not having designed any myself, I'll
    speculate that there probably isn't enough input signal even at pixel
    saturation to drive the following electronics into a significant amount
    of compression, so practically speaking the clip-point is the
    compression point of interest here.
    With exactly one exception -- specifically, you -- I haven't seen any
    use of the word "dynamic range" elsewhere that is substantially
    DR(camera) = DR(scene) - noise_figure

    Can't be more direct that that. The "noise figure" (go ahead, google
    that up too) of the Canon 1D2 at ISO 100 appears to be about 2 stops
    (assuming a quantum efficiency of ~1/4 and an MDS of 1 stddev over
    Oh dear, ~14 stops to 11.7 stops.
    You desperately need a course in basic signal processing -- audio, RF,
    doesn't matter much: the concepts apply across the board. This stuff
    isn't even particularly hard. Certainly not has hard as explaining how
    you can start with a pure number and arrive at electrons...
    eawckyegcy, Jan 22, 2007
  15. Timo,
    You are way off base here. It is more than just marketing
    by sensor manufacturers, it is the standard used in
    engineering. (I would have responded sooner but I was in Africa
    the last couple of weeks.) I'll give the following link:
    then go to the bottom of the page to the references and
    download the Kodak sensor data sheets (those marked KAF).
    You'll see the same methods and definitions used that I use.
    On the same above web page, I've plotted the Kodak data along
    with my data and those of others who have studies sensors.
    We have a collectively consistent picture.
    You are confusing precision in intensity measurements with range
    of measurements. Let's try another analogy: estimating length with
    your eye. For a small length, like a mm, you might have an error
    of a fraction of a mm (let's say 0.25 mm error at length 0.5 mm).
    At 1 meter, you may have an error of a few cm. At 100 meters, you
    might have an error of a few meters. Over 100 meters, what
    dynamic range in length measurements do you have? It is on the
    order of: 100 meters / 0.5 mm = 100 /0.0005 = 20,000.
    The range of measurement is 20,000 even though the precision
    is not high.

    You don't need that 0.25 mm accuracy to know that 100 meters
    is big. Same with photons. The sensor can measure 50,000
    photons (electrons) with an error of sqrt(50,000) =223, but you
    know it is still a big number regardless of the error bar.
    Then at small numbers of photons, e.g. 4, the noise is sqrt(4)=2.
    The range of such a measurement is 50,000/4 = 12,500, even though
    the signal-to-noise ratio never exceeds 223.

    So, don't confuse signal-to-noise ratio with dynamic range.
    wrong. Your definition of dynamic range is incorrect. I use
    electronics industry standard definitions.
    We've been over this before, yet you have never shown any
    data that proves your point and you ignore data that proves
    you are wrong. See Figure 5 and the paragraph above Figure 5 at:
    where it is shown and discussed how less than a fraction of the
    noise still shows image detail. For example, Figure 5
    set 5, patch A has 1.2 photons is clearly discernible (electrons)/pixel
    on average, with noise of 3.9 electrons, or over 3 times smaller
    than the noise. It is the same with high ISO film: the grain
    is quite large and a lot of image components are at a S/N
    less than 1. You have yet to respond with a definition of
    acceptable S/N ratio that will include film as a usable
    medium (and note it was acceptable for decades).
    Wrong. (Ironic, as your own definition of dynamic range says film
    effectively has no dynamic range!) To the contrary, the sprintscan
    has pulled data out of images that I nor professional labs could
    not print. It has more than adequate dynamic range for the

    Roger N. Clark (change username to rnclark), Feb 4, 2007
  16. Wrong.

    several sensors analyzed at (and references to others):
    Wrong. It is the correct definition for light sensors and is
    the definition used in the electronics industry.
    Wrong. You forget that 8-bit image data are gamma encoded.
    Wrong. You confuse signal-to-noise ratio with dynamic range.
    No it is not if you have access to the raw data.
    If you use correct methods, none of the above are problems.
    Follow the procedures here, which is the industry standard
    method for measuring properties:

    Procedures for Evaluating Digital Camera
    Sensor Noise, Dynamic Range, and Full Well Capacities;
    Canon 1D Mark II Analysis
    I suggest more research before you post again, and then if
    you don't change, be prepared to tell why the entire
    electronics industry and scientists are wrong and you
    are right. There is a Nobel prize waiting.

    Roger N. Clark (change username to rnclark), Feb 4, 2007
  17. DN numbers are simply a linear scale. They could be scaled
    to electrons (photons).
    The sensor noise goes below the 70 DN of the test chart, thus
    enabling the extrapolation beyond the test chart.
    Several points: I did not use the canon converter, I used ImagesPlus
    which allows extracting linear data from the raw file. The purpose
    the the http://www.clarkvision.com/imagedetail/dynamicrange2
    web page is to compare to film. Like others, I have found
    measuring dynamic range with variable test targets to be quite
    difficult, so I have changed to the sensor electronics
    industry standards, which circumvent the problems, but at the
    cost of needing dozens of images and more data processing.

    My results are here:

    Methodology is here:
    Procedures for Evaluating Digital Camera
    Sensor Noise, Dynamic Range, and Full Well Capacities;
    Canon 1D Mark II Analysis

    Data for many sensors are here:

    You asked about the Nikon D200 and Canon 5D.
    Detailed analysis of the D200 is here:

    I do not have the 5D detailed analysis, but the pixels are the
    same size and era as the 1D Mark II, so the performance is
    probably like the 1D Mark II, and analysis by others shows it is close.

    Roger N. Clark (change username to rnclark), Feb 4, 2007
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.