How Automatic Deconvolution Works

What follows is meant to give an idea of the principles of automatic (or "blind") deconvolution. It avoids many complications, not least concerning phase. In order to understand automatic deconvolution properly would probably take a 60 hour undergraduate university course, after learning the necessary mathematics.

Unlike other images in this website, the images in this section are carefully chosen and constructed to illustrate the theory - elsewhere in the website the images are original photographs.

There is also a version of this page at twice the resolution.

Fourier Transforms

It is hard to give an idea of how beautiful and important Fourier transforms are. They are implicit in all of modern physics - for example, almost all of quantum mechanics (in which I gained my doctorate) is written in terms of them. To study acoustics (in which I have done some work), they allow one to understand the different tones (frequencies) in sounds, and how they are acted upon by the media through which they travel. They are intimately related to holograms.

Every image held in a computer potentially has a Fourier transform (technically a 2D DFT, a two-dimensinal discrete Fourier transform), which is really just another way of seeing the image.
Original image of woods A blob of speckles, brightest at the centre
Fig 1: Woods on Exmoor. Fig 2: The amplitude of the FFT of Fig 1.
Fig 1 is one of my holiday snaps, and Fig 2 shows the amplitude of its Fourier transform. I have scaled Fig 2 so that the outer regions can be seen, which means that the brightest speckles are saturated. (To keep things simple, the Fourier transforms are also shown in greyscale, averaging all of the colours in the image.) The idea behind Fourier transforms is that any "function" (in this case an image) can be represented as a sum of sine-waves, of different frequencies, directions, amplitudes and phases. "Amplitude" means "how much", and "phase" means, loosely,  "where it starts". The centre of Fig 2 represents the large-scale structure of Fig 1 - the "low spatial frequencies". The outskirts of Fig 2 represent the small-scale structure of Fig 1 - the "high spatial frequencies". So Fig 2 tells us that there is much more going on at large scales in the picture than at small scales, because Fig 2 is quite dark at the edges. This is normal for a photograph - the tree-trunks, path and river between the trees are more obvious than the fine detail of leaves and stones.

Unshake compensates for this effect, in which the low-spatial-frequency components have higher amplitudes that those with a higher spatial frequency - it amplifies the higher spatial frequencies away from the centre, and smooths the result in a particular way, to give this picture;
A broader blob, still darker at the edges.
Fig 3: Compensated amplitude of Fig 1.
This "compensated amplitude" represents how much there is "going on" in the image, at different spatial frequencies. In an ideal world, since Fig 1 is quite a clear image, Fig 3 should be a uniform shade of grey, but what we see in the outer regions (in this case a darkening), depends on the way in which the image is scanned, much more than on the scene itself. The important thing is that the central region is more or less grey, compared to Fig 2.

One of the special things about Fourier transforms is that using a special trick, the Cooley-Tukey Fast Fourier Transform (or FFT), we can calculate the Fourier transform (Fig 2) of an image (Fig 1)  reasonably quickly, and most importantly, given both the amplitude and phase of the Fourier transform of an image, we can just as quickly find the original image from its Fourier transform. It seems that the Fourier transform is just as real a way of seeing the world as the original image is.

We say that the original image is in "configuration" space, or c-space, and the Fourier transform is in "k-space". It just happens that some things are more obvious in c-space and some are more obvious in k-space. If one object is next to another, that is visible in c-space, but very obscure in k-space. On the other hand, blurring of photos is more clear in k-space.

Ordinary Deconvolution

Now consider what happens to the image if the scene in Fig 1 is blurred - the example here is a uniform horizontal shake of the camera by 5 pixels;
Blurred image sideways. Vertical bar in centre, faint bars on either side, fainter at top and bottom.
Fig 4:  Fig 1, convolved with horizontal bar 5 pixels long Fig 5: Compensated amplitude of Fourier transform of Fig 4.
Fig 4 shows the result of this, and Fig 5 shows the smoothed and compensated Fourier transform of Fig 4.

This is an important result: Blurring the image sideways makes the compensated Fourier transform far fainter at the sides. Also, there are faint bars left on either side of the central bar (we call these "side-lobes"). You can also just see fainter bars at the extreme edges on either side. Compare this with the amplitude of the Fourier transform of a horizontal line, 5 pixels long, Fig 6;
Straight vertical bar at centre, two bars on either side, faint bars at edges.
Fig 6: Amplitude of Fourier transform of horizontal bar 5 pixels long.
This has the same structure; a vertical bar at the centre, two fainter bars on either side, and even fainter bars at each side edge. Fig 5 and Fig 6 are very similar - Fig 5, which comes from a blurred image, seems to tell us more about the blur (Fig 6) than it does about the original image (Figs 1 and 3).

There are two important phenomena happening here: First, large scale structures in Fourier transforms represent small scale structures in the image, and vice versa. Thus, after we have smoothed out the amplitude of the Fourier transform, what remains is information about the image's small-scale structure, which is mostly its blur.

Secondly, when we blurred the image, every point in it was replaced by a horizontal bar, and all of the resulting bars were added together. That is what is meant by blurring an entire image in a particular way. The so-called "convolution therorem" tells us that if every point of an image is replaced by another shape (such as a bar as in shake, or a circle as in poor focus), then the Fourier transform of the result is proportional to the result of multiplying the Fourier transform of the image by that of the blurring shape. So every pixel in Fig 5 should be (proportional to) the product of the corresponding pixels of Fig 3 and Fig 6.

Now this raises a fascinating possibility: if we can get (by the convolution theorem) Fig 4 by multiplying its Fourier transform by Fig 6, can we reverse the process, and get Fig 1, the original, from Fig 4, by dividing it by Fig 6? The answer is a qualified yes, and this is the key to deconvolution. It has fascinated me since I first learned about Fourier transforms as an undergraduate, but it took 20 years before  I got round to playing with it.

There is a catch; some of the values in Fig 6 are so small that they might as well be zero, and if you divide by (nearly) zero, you  run into trouble. (Technically, noise becomes amplified greatly.) So we use a trick known as a "Wiener filter" to avoid dividing by very small numbers. After that, the result of dividing the Fourier transform of Fig 4 by Fig 6, and reversing the transform, is Fig 7;
Image similar to the original.
Fig 7: Deconvolution of Fig 4.

Automatic Deconvolution

So far, this is well-established practice. It is how "sun-spots" (or star-spots) were found on the disc of the star Betelgeuse a decade ago, blurring by Earth's atmosphere being compensated by the observed blur of a more distant "guide star". In many realms other than imagery, it is common practice. While information has certainly been lost in Fig 4, so that Fig 7 is not a perfect rendition of Fig 1, far less has been lost than might have been expected.

But what if we do not have a "guide star", which will tell us how our image has been blurred? How can we deduce the blur so that we can undo it? This is the difficult art of "blind deconvolution".

One way of approaching the problem is simply to look at Fig 5. Someone who has studied Fourier transforms would immediately recognise the characteristic signs of sideways shake, as a "sinc" function, and could guess how to deconvolve the image, and one could start to program such a process - this is in fact how Unshake started out. But I eventually realised that it was a terribly difficult path, if the real scene was not as ideal as the example which I have chosen here, and if the blur was not as simple, such as a curved shake combined with poor focus. A much more adaptable method exists, commonly known as iterative blind deconvolution, but I don't think that this is suitable for deconvolving a normal photo on a home computer.

Briefly, Unshake takes Fig 3 as a guess as to the amplitude of the Fourier transform of the blur, and the phase is recovered as that which has the smallest effect, a technique which can be shown to work well for simple blurs, and which makes errors as small as possible when it does fail.

For the case we have been looking at, this is what version 1.4 of Unshake makes of Fig 4;
Slightly blurred image Sharper image than original
Fig 8: Unshake's default effort. Fig 9: Unshake's thorough effort.
Figure 8 shows what default settings achieve; I only had to open the image in Unshake and click the "DeBlur" button. Figure 9 was obtained by requesting twice the time ("x2"), and an amplification of 10.

©M.D. Cahill 2003 C.E.