Signal-to-noise ratio (imaging)

The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is used in imaging as a physical measure of the sensitivity of a (digital or film) imaging system. Industry standards measure SNR in decibels (dB) of power and therefore apply the 10 log rule to the "pure" SNR ratio (a ratio of 1:1 yields 0 decibels, for instance). In turn, yielding the "sensitivity." Industry standards measure and define sensitivity in terms of the ISO film speed equivalent; SNR:32.04 dB = excellent image quality and SNR:20 dB = acceptable image quality.[1]

Definition of SNR

An operator arbitrarily defines a box area in the signal and background regions of a back-illuminated half moon or knife-edge test target. The data, (such as pixel intensity), is used to determine the average signal and background values.

Traditionally, SNR has been defined as the ratio of the average signal value to the standard deviation of the background:

However, when presented with a high-contrast scene, many imaging systems clamp the background to uniform black, forcing to zero, artificially making the SNR infinite.[2] In this case a better definition of SNR is the ratio of the average signal value to the standard deviation of the signal :

which gives a meaningful result in the presence of clamping.



The line data is gathered from the arbitrarily defined signal and background regions and input into an array (refer to image to the right). To calculate the average signal and background values, a second order polynomial is fitted to the array of line data and subtracted from the original array line data. This is done to remove any trends. Finding the mean of this data yields the average signal and background values. The net signal is calculated from the difference of the average signal and background values. The RMS or root mean square noise is defined from the signal region. Finally, SNR is determined as the ratio of the net signal to the RMS noise.

Polynomial and coefficients

Net signal, signal, and background

The second-order polynomial is subtracted from the original data to remove any trends and then averaged. This yields the signal and background values:


Hence, the net signal value is determined by :


RMS noise and SNR

The SNR is thus given by

Using the industry standard 20 log rule[4]...

See also


  1. ISO 12232: 1997 Photography – Electronic Still Picture Cameras – Determining ISO Speed here
  2. 1 2 Mazzetta, J.; Caudle, Dennis; Wageneck, Bob (2005). "Digital Camera Imaging Evaluation" (PDF). Electro Optical Industries. p. 8. Retrieved 28 March 2010.
  3. Aboufadel, E.F., Goldberg, J.L., Potter, M.C. (2005).Advanced Engineering Mathematics (3rd ed.).New York, New York: Oxford University Press
  4. Test and Measurement World (2008). SNR. In Glossary and Abbreviations.
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