Take All Your Pictures to the Cleaners, with Google Photos Noise and Blur Reduction

Posted by Mauricio Delbracio, Research Scientist and Sungjoon Choi, Software Engineer, Google Research

Despite recent leaps in imaging technology, especially on mobile devices, image noise and limited sharpness remain two of the most important levers for improving the visual quality of a photograph. These are particularly relevant when taking pictures in poor light conditions, where cameras may compensate by increasing the ISO or slowing the shutter speed, thereby exacerbating the presence of noise and, at times, increasing image blur. Noise can be associated with the particle nature of light (shot noise) or be introduced by electronic components during the readout process (read noise). The captured noisy signal is then processed by the camera image processor (ISP) and later may be further enhanced, amplified, or distorted by a photographic editing process. Image blur can be caused by a wide variety of phenomena, from inadvertent camera shake during capture, an incorrect setting of the camera’s focus (automatic or not), or due to the finite lens aperture, sensor resolution or the camera’s image processing.

It is far easier to minimize the effects of noise and blur within a camera pipeline, where details of the sensor, optical hardware and software blocks are understood. However, when presented with an image produced from an arbitrary (possibly unknown) camera, improving noise and sharpness becomes much more challenging due to the lack of detailed knowledge and access to the internal parameters of the camera. In most situations, these two problems are intrinsically related: noise reduction tends to eliminate fine structures along with unwanted details, while blur reduction seeks to boost structures and fine details. This interconnectedness increases the difficulty of developing image enhancement techniques that are computationally efficient to run on mobile devices.

Today, we present a new approach for camera-agnostic estimation and elimination of noise and blur that can improve the quality of most images. We developed a pull-push denoising

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