Document Type

Encyclopedia Entry

Publication Date


Publication Source

Encyclopedia of Optical Engineering


In recent years, digital images and digital image processing have become part of everyday life. This growth has been primarily fueled by advances in digital computers and the advent and growth of the Internet. Furthermore, commercially available digital cameras, scanners, and other equipment for acquiring, storing, and displaying digital imagery have become very inexpensive and increasingly powerful. An excellent treatment of digital images and digital image processing can be found in Ref. [1]. A digital image is simply a two-dimensional array of finite-precision numerical values called picture elements (or pixels). Thus a digital image is a spatially discrete (or discrete-space) signal. In visible grayscale images, for example, each pixel represents the intensity of a corresponding region in the scene. The grayscale values must be quantized into a finite precision format. Typical resolutions include 8 bit (256 gray levels), 12 bit (4096 gray levels), and 16 bit (65536 gray levels). Color visible images are most frequently represented by tristimulus values. These are the quantities of red, green, and blue light required, in the additive color system, to produce the desired color. Thus a so-called “RGB” color image can be thought of as a set of three “grayscale” images — the first representing the red component, the second the green, and the third the blue.

Digital images can also be nonvisible in nature. This means that the physical quantity represented by the pixel values is something other than visible light intensity or color. These include radar cross-sections of an object, temperature profile (infrared imaging), X-ray images, gravitation field, etc. In general, any two-dimensional array information can be the basis for a digital image.

As in the case of any digital data, the advantage of this representation is in the ability to manipulate the pixel values using a digital computer or digital hardware. This offers great power and flexibility. Furthermore, digital images can be stored and transmitted far more reliably than their analog counterparts. Error protection coding of digital imagery, for example, allows for virtually error-free transmission.

Inclusive pages




Document Version

Published Version


Permission documentation is on file.


Marcel Dekker Inc.


1: Abe-Las

Place of Publication

New York, NY