Learning deep neural networks in blind deblurring framework

by   Junde Wu, et al.
Harbin Institute of Technology

Recently, end-to-end learning methods based on deep neural network (DNN) have been proven effective for blind deblurring. Without human-made assumptions and numerical algorithms, they are able to restore blurry images with fewer artifacts and better perceptual quality. However, without the theoretical guidance, these methods sometimes generate unreasonable results and often perform worse when the motion is complex. In this paper, for overcoming these drawbacks, we integrate deep convolution neural networks into conventional deblurring framework. Specifically, we build Stacked Estimate Residual Net (SEN) to estimate the motion flow map and Recurrent Prior Generative and Adversarial Net (RP-GAN) to learn an image prior constrained term in half-quadratic splitting algorithm. The generator and discriminators are also designed to be adaptive to the iterative optimization. Comparing with state-of-the-art end-to-end learning based methods, our method restores reasonable details and shows better generalization ability.


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Code Repositories


Paper: Integrating Neural Networks Into the Blind Deblurring Framework to Compete With the End-to-End Learning-Based Methods. IEEE TIP

view repo

1 Introduction

Motion blur is a commonly appeared degradation of image qualities. The blurry images generally caused by the shakes of camera and fast object motions. Most of the deblurring methods are modelled by :


where * denotes convolution operator, , , , are observed blurry image, latent sharp image, blur kernel and noise respectively. Solving from Eqn. (1) is highly ill-posed due to the unknown blur kernel and extra noise.

Figure 1: A deblurred example. (a) Blurry image. (b) Result of Nah et al. [17]. (c) Result of Tao et al. [30]. (d) Ours.

The end-to-end learning based methods [19, 17, 29, 9] solved it by training a neural network to restore the clear images from blurred observations directly. Depending on the strong fitting ability of deep neural network (DNN), they restored images with fewer artifacts and better visual effect. However, in practice, we also find some limitations of this kind of methods. Firstly, most of them perform worse when the motion is too large or the blur is highly space-variant. Besides, sometimes they restore heavy blurry content to unreasonable objects since lacking theoretical guidance.

In this work, we take advantage of both generalization capability of conventional deblurring framework and strong fitting ability of neural network to build a more effective blind deblurring method. Specifically, we design a generative and adversarial net (GAN) to generate the optimal solution of a sub-problem constrained by image prior in half-quadratic splitting algorithm. By doing that, we avoid learning an explicit prior and corresponding numerical optimization process. As the network is supervised by sharp images directly, the corrupted deconvolutional results can be constrained by nature image priors rather than assumption-based ones.

For adapting to iterative optimization, we build the generator with recurrent structure which enables it to weight different prior constraint depending on the input data. Unlike the commonly used GAN structure, we use two discriminators to constrain the recurrent generator. One is conditional Generative and Adversarial Net (cGAN) discriminator [16], which plays generative and adversarial game with the generator. The other one is artifacts penalized discriminator, which is built to impose extra punishment on artifacts. Two discriminators work together for promising that the image quality can be improved through iterations. We call the network as Recurrent Prior Generative and Adversarial Net (RP-GAN). For blind deblurring , we build a stacked residual network, called Stacked Estimate Net (SEN), to estimate the space-varying motion flow at each pixel of the blurry image. In that case, RP-GAN can be trained to be robust to the mistakenly estimated motion blur kernels. In the end, we send the result to the whole system again to further process the residue blur. The global iteration approximately restores the nonlinear blur by eliminating the linear blur content iteratively.

In conclusion, the main contributions of this paper are:

  • We build SEN to estimate the nonuniform motion flow map. Its accuracy exceed all the other deep learning based methods.

  • We propose RP-GAN to adaptively weight prior constraint on corrupted deconvolutional results.

  • We build global iterations for extending our algorithm to nonlinear blur.

2 Related Work

Most conventional approaches get success depending on guiding maximum a posteriori probability (MAP) process by assumed priors, such as the total variational regularizer

[31, 21], Gaussian scale mixture priors [3] , normalized sparsity [8], L0 gradients [32] , dark channel prior [20], etc. However, since all these hand-crafted priors are designed under limited observations or restricted assumptions, these algorithms show unsatisfied results when processing the images that have fewer corresponding features. Hand-crafted priors are also proved effective for blur kernel estimation, such as edge-extraction based MAP [2, 27], gradient activation based MAP [4] and variational Bayesian methods [11, 12, 35], etc. However, their generalization capabilities are also limited by human-made assumptions .

The development of neural networks inspires many works to utilize it in conventional deblurring framework. Schuler et al. [22] propose a neural network to estimate the blur kernel and restore the images by deconvolution. Yan and Shao [34]

build a classification network to classify the blur type and then a regression network to estimate its parameters. Sun

et al. [26] propose a convolutional neural network (CNN) to predict the probabilistic distribution of blur. Gong et al. [5] propose a fully-convolutional deep neural network (FCN) to directly estimate the blur kernel in pixel level and get a higher accuracy. On the other hand, several works use neural network to learn generic image priors (explicit or implicit) for deblurring [24, 37, 23, 36]. Zhang et al. [36] learn denoised gradient as image prior to guide the deconvolution model. Li et al. [13] learn a discriminative prior for deblurring in generic scenarios. However, they have to compromise on the restoration quality when embedding an explicit prior to numerical methods. Schuler et al. [23] and Zhang et al. [37]

train models with implicit priors for restoring the corrupted deconvolutional results by multi-layer perceptron (MLP) and multiple CNN respectively. Nevertheless, since trained for non-blind deconvolution, these methods are hard to be applied to blind deblurring directly. Besides, restricted by development of neural networks, their network structures are actually too simple to fit their tasks.

Recently, end-to-end learning based methods have shown great advantages for deblurring. Nah et al. [17] propose a multi-scale CNN for restoring the images in three different levels. Each level is responsible for processing different blur scale, from small to large. Kupyn et al. [9] build GAN model for deblurring directly from the blurred observations to the sharp images. Tao et al. [29] inherited the multi-scale structure from Nah et al. [17]

and add long short-term memory (LSTM) in the recurrent process. End-to-end learning based methods restore the images with fewer artifacts than optimization based methods. But they highly depend on the observed data. Thus, on the one hand, they often show worse generalization ability, especially when the motion is large or complex. On the other hand, since these methods completely discard the deblurring principle, they sometimes restore unreasonable results from blur images, which may cause the restored images to be more confusing than the blurry ones.

3 Motion Flow Estimation by SEN

Figure 2: The first stack of SEN. Later stacks share the similar structure.
Figure 2: The first stack of SEN. Later stacks share the similar structure.

We propose to estimate spatially-varying motion flow map using a stacked residual network from end to end. Our motion flow map is modeled following [5]. Specifically, given an arbitrary RGB blurry image which has the size , the task is generating a matrix to represent motion flow map. can be expressed as : , , . and denote horizontal and vertical motions respectively.

The network we propose, called SEN, is mainly based on an encoder-decoder structure which has been proven useful in various vision tasks [15, 25, 28, 33, 18]. We adapt the network structure from [18]. Its detailed structure is shown in Figure 2. Unlike the symmetrical structure used in [18], we use three dilated convolution layers with increasing channels in front of the network. They help to enlarge the receptive field and abstract the intact deep blur features .

Because the prior layers are more likely related to the image content but not the blur features. Skip connections are added only after dilated convolution layers. From experiments, we find the skip connections on prior layers impair the network performance because of the large difference between the image content and the motion flow map.

The stacked structure is utilized to improve the estimation accuracy. Stacked structure takes the result from the last network to serve as the input of the next one. In the paper, we build the stacked networks in the similar structure with the first one. The result from the first network concatenated with the blur image serves as the next network’s input. Although more stacks can improve the estimation accuracy, they will also cause overfitting. For the balance, we take two stacks in practice.

In previous works [26, 5], the task was treated as a classification problem. However, we find that regression loss help network reach higher accuracy. Specifically, L2 loss is used for training, which can be expressed as :


where denotes the estimated matrix and denotes the label. is the number of all elements in the matrix.

4 RP-GAN embedded in HQ Algorithm

4.1 Half-Quadratic Splitting Algorithm(HQ Algorithm)

When knowing the motion flow maps in pixel level, the deblurring issue can be modeled as:


where denotes the latent sharp image. denotes the given blurry image. denotes the heterogeneous motion blur kernel map with different blur kernels for each pixel in . denotes the latent prior of the image. implies general convolution operation. is a weighting constant. Here each nonuniform blur kernel is applied on each different pixel. The specific operation is done following [5]. In Eqn. (3), since both and are unknown, it’s hard to solve the equation directly.

Half-quadratic splitting algorithm is a way to simplify it. By HQS, for solving Eqn. (3), we can split it into two sub-problems in Eqn. (4).


where is the number of iterations. is the corrupted deconvolutional image, is an auxiliary variable initialized with observed blurry image . is a variable parameter. By iteratively optimizing two sub-problems with increasing , the solved could be seemed as an approximate solution of Eqn. (3).
Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{1} has the analytic solution :


is the identity matrix.

But Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{2}, because of the unknown image prior, can not be solved without any assumption. Therefore, training a neural network to solve Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{2} is an appealing idea. In this way, we can learn the implicit image prior directly through data. However, Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{2} constraints images by image prior in different levels, which controlled by parameter . Thus we build the network with recurrent structure to weight adaptive prior during the iteration. Detailed RP-GAN are given in the next subsection.

4.2 Recurrent Prior GAN and Insights behind it

We build Recurrent Prior GAN (RP-GAN) to learn Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{2} from end to end. The structure of RP-GAN is roughly based on [6]. Detailed structure is provided in Appendix A.

4.2.1 Recurrent Structure

When using a single neural network to learn Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{2}, it’s hard to integrate the parameter into the network. However, the observation that network outputs clearer images when accepting better-quality deconvolutional results makes us believe network could learn to adjust the latent parameter by itself (through perceiving variant inputs). From the above, we build the recurrent structure to adapt to the conventional iterative process. In recurrent process, the restored result of the recurrence (level) is served as variable for Eqn. (4)-\⃝raisebox{-0.9pt}{1}, then it will be used to calculate the corrupted deconvolutional value through Eqn. (5). will then be the input of level in recurrent generator. The process is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The recurrent process of RP-GAN. denotes generator, and are cGAN discriminator and artifacts-penalize discriminator respectively

If using a general GAN structure (with one generator and one adversarial discriminator) for the task, once GAN outputs the images with remained artifacts, these artifacts will then escalate in the deconvolution process and lead the inputs of the next level become even worse. The artifacts’ corruption will be gradually aggravated in the process of recurrence. A way to prevent it is designing the network which favors blur more than artifacts. The advantages are twofold. On the one hand, comparing with an artifacts-corrupted intermediate result (), a blurry intermediate result will not cause extra artifacts in the next deconvolutional input (), thus promises convergence. On the other hand, the residue blur can be further processed in the global iteration, but the artifacts can not. Therefore, RP-GAN could output images from blurry to clear in its recurrence. We show an example in Figure 4. The way we implement it is putting extra penalties on the artifacts. The details are shown in section 4.2.3.

4.2.2 Generator

The inputs of the generator is the deconvolutional image: and the concatenated observed blurry image: which is used to compensate the heavily corrupted information in . We also skip connect the concatenated inputs with the last layer of the network to make the network to be more dependent on the offered information, thus to be sensitive to different inputs in different iterations.

Figure 4: The images from left to right are blurry image, result of level 1, result of level 2, result of level 3 respectively. We see the RP-GAN outputs image from blurry to clear with recurrence going on.

4.2.3 Discriminator

Two discriminators are built to ensure RP-GAN would rather contain blurry content than contain artifacts during recurrence. One discriminator plays a minimax game with , to penalize the difference between generated images and sharp images. Another discriminator gives extra penalty to the artifacts. Two discriminators help generate minimum artifacts while restoring clear content.
cGAN discriminator. Since we have used blurry image as additional information, we build our generative and adversarial strategy following conditional generative and adversarial net [16]. The objective of and in it can be expressed as:


where denotes the latent sharp image. denotes the observed blurry image. denotes the corrupted deconvolutional image. Generator learns to minimize the objective against discriminator , which tries to maximize it. The generator is expected to generate images closer to natural ones through playing the minimax game continuously. The generated image will be sent to the discriminator with concatenated conditional variable. By comparing the blurry image with the generated image, cGAN discriminator can better distinguish the generated one from the sharp one.

Figure 5: The deblurring system
Figure 5: The deblurring system

Artifacts-penalized discriminator. For constraining artifacts, we build an extra penalty term. Artifacts-penalized discriminator penalizes if generated image is closer to the corrupted input than the sharp image. We adapt WGAN [1] to our discriminator. WGAN discriminator is trained to approximate the Wasserstein distance, or Earth-Mover distance, between the generated distribution and the real distribution. But here, we train the artifacts-penalized discriminator as a Wasserstein distance between corrupted inputs and observed blurry images. The objective of artifacts-penalized discriminator can be expressed as :


where is the distribution of the corrupted input data and is the distribution of the observed blurry image. and are the samples from distribution and distribution respectively. denotes the Wasserstein between two distributions. denotes the artifacts-penalized discriminator. denotes should be 1-Lipschitz function. The penalty to G is expressed as:


denotes the positive part of the content. As shown in Eqn. (7), artifacts-penalized discriminator is trained to output a larger value for artifacts-corrupted image and a smaller value for blurry image. Thus, as shown in Eqn. (8), punishment is only imposed when is larger than , which denotes the generated image is closer to the corrupted input than the sharp image in learned measure.

4.2.4 Loss function

Total loss of RP-GAN is expressed as:

where denotes the content loss. denotes the adversarial loss. denotes extra penalty. and are weighting constants. The objective of RP-GAN is simultaneously minimizing the three items until convergence.
Specifically, adversarial loss can be expressed as:

We take perceptual loss[7] as our content loss, which can be expressed as:

where is a pretrained network for abstracting the depth value of images. are the channel, height and weight of a hidden layer of network . Perceptual loss compares the depth value of images instead of directly penalizing the difference of pixel-level information. In our experiment, it helps to prevent the network from overfitting to the image contents and generate images with better perceptual quality. In practice, we compute the loss at layer relu2_2 of the VGG16 network. Extra penalty is shown in Eqn. (8).

5 Nonuniform and Nonlinear Blind Deblurring

Note SEN could only produce nonuniform but linear motion flow maps. But in practice, the blur is more likely to be nonuniform and nonlinear. Since a nonliner blur kernel can be approximated by multiple linear blur kernels in different orientations, for processing the nonlinear blur images, we use the successive approximation strategy. Final results of RP-GAN will be sent to the system again for further processing the residue blur content. Through eliminating the approximated liner blur iteratively, the nonlinear blur can be gradually eliminated. As we estimate the blur kernels in pixel level, the global iterations have high efficiency. The effect of it is shown in Table 2 and Table 3. The intact system for blind deblurring is shown in Figure 5.

6 Experiments

Our networks are implemented using PyTorch deep learning framework. All models are ran on NVIDIA 1080Ti GPU.

6.1 Motion Blur Kernel Estimation

Datasets Our data is generated following [5]. For adapting to different scales of blur kernels, we generate two datasets.

Figure 6: Test results on GOPRO dataset. Images from top to bottom are blurry image, results of Sun et al. [26], Nah et al. [17], Tao et al. [30] and ours respectively.

One is for estimating small-scale blur kernels, the ceiling of it is set as . The other is for large-scale ones, which is set as . Both datasets contain 12000 blur images which generated from 1200 sharp images from Microsoft COCO [14] (Each sharp image generates 20 blur images). The 10000 images of the datasets are used for training. The other 2000 are for testing. Two datasets are referred as MSCOCO-46 and MSCOCO-23 respectively.
Training details SEN is trained by images cropped to 256*256 pixels. We set two stacks in practice. Both two stacks are trained by batch size 16. In the first stack, learning rate is set as

in the first 50 epochs, and linearly decreases to

in the next 40 epochs. The second stack is trained 15 epochs by learning rate . Both of them use Adam solver with , and .
Comparison We compare our method with Sun et al. [26] and Gong et al. [5]. Sun et al. estimated blur kernel in patch by CNN first, then further process them with markov random field for smoothness. Gong et al. proposed a FCN to estimate motion flow maps in pixel level and get previous state-of-the-art results. In our experiments, SEN shows higher qualitative results than previous network by comparing mean square error (MSE). The comparison is shown in Table 1.

Dataset Sun et al. Gong et al. Ours
MSCOCO-23 24.34 5.54 2.71
MSCOCO-46 63.37 7.21 4.24
Table 1: MSE on motion flow estimation

6.2 Blind Deblurring

For evaluating our blind deblurring method, we compare our method on mainstream benchmarks with previous state-of-the-art image deblurring approaches. PSNR and SSIM metrics are used to evaluate the restored image quality.
RP-GAN training details RP-GAN is trained on two different datasets to ensure model’s generalization. One contains 1000 synthetic blurred images generated following section 6.1. The other is GOPRO dataset [17], which provides 2103 blur/clear pairs for training. All deconvolutional results are solved by the estimated blur kernels from pretrained SEN model. Batch size is set as 16. Learning rate is set as for both generator and discriminator in the first 110 epochs, and linearly decreases to in the next 80 epochs. We use the same solver as which used for SEN. For speeding up convergence, we begin the recurrence after the first 40 epochs, then update deconvolutional results every 3 epochs. The whole training process costs about 15 days.
Comparisons on benchmarks We compare our algorithm with [26] [17] and [30]. Sun et al. [26] learned blur kernel through CNN, then did non-blind deblurring by traditional deconvolution method. Nah et al. [17] and Tao et al. [30] are two representative end-to-end learning methods for deblurring. Both of them used multi-scale strategy and generate perceptually convincing images. Tao et al. got previous state-of-the-art results on mainstream benchmarks.

Methods are compared on two mainstream benchmarks, GOPRO dataset [17] and Kohler dataset [10]. GOPRO dataset generates long-exposure blurry frames by averaging consecutive short-exposure frames from videos captured by high-speed cameras. The dataset provides 2103 clear/blur pairs for training and 1111 pairs for testing. The quantitative results on GOPRO testing set are listed in Table 2. Visual comparison is shown in Figure 6. More comparisons are provided in Appendix B.

Method Sun et al. Nah et al. Tao et al.
PSNR 24.64 29.08 30.10
SSIM 0.8429 0.9135 0.9323
Time 20min 3.09s 1.6s
Method Ours.it1 Ours.it2 Ours.it3
PSNR 29.86 30.35 30.75
SSIM 0.9314 0.9386 0.9402
Time 17s 32s 47s
Table 2: Quantitative results on GOPRO testing dataset

In Table 2 and Table 3, it1,2,3 denote the results of global iteration 1, 2 and 3 respectively. We see the results are improved with the iteration going on, and get the best result in the third iteration. Because containing the deconvolution process, our method will certainly cost more time than end-to-end learning methods. But using the deep neural network for optimization helps us take much less time than Sun et al., who used a numerical method.

Kohler dataset [10] recorded and analyzed real camera motion, which is played back on a robot platform. The dataset consists of 4 images blurred with 12 different kernels for each of them. Comparisons on Kohler dataset are listed in Table 3. Visual comparison is shown in Figure 7.

Method Sun et al. Nah et al. Tao et al.
PSNR 25.22 26.48 26.80
SSIM 0.7735 0.8079 0.8375
Method Ours.it1 Ours.it2 Ours.it3
PSNR 27.25 28. 46 29.19
SSIM 0.8642 0. 8933 0.9128
Table 3: Quantitative results on Kohler dataset
Figure 7: Test results on Kohler dataset. Images from left to right are blurry image, results of Sun et al. [26], Nah et al. [17], Tao et al. [30] and ours respectively.

Comparing with end-to-end learning methods, our method restores clearer details on GOPRO test dataset. On Kohler dataset, our method outperforms others by a large margin. That is because the restoration ability of end-to-end learning based methods is only dependent on training dataset. It results in their failure of restoring extreme motions. This fault seems not so apparent on GOPRO testing dataset. But sometimes it restores unreasonable objects when the blur content is heavy. Such as Nah et al. restore the slant license plate number in Figure 6. Unlike the end-to-end learning methods, we build two networks to independently estimate the motion flow and restore the deconvolutional results in the optimization framework. Because of learning a easier subtask, SEN can have a better awareness of motion than the end-to-end deblurring networks. Then RP-GAN can utilize the known motion to restore more reasonable objects. A typical example is shown in Figure 8. On the other hand, end-to-end learning based methods show worse effect on challenge blur images in Kohler dataset, which the motion is larger or more complex than which is in GOPRO dataset. Since the deblurring framework we use is universally applicable, our method shows stronger generalization capability.
Recurrent strategy As how many recurrent levels can also be a factor influencing the restored image quality. We compared the effect of setting different levels. The quantitative results of each setting are listed in Table 4. We see the results improve a lot in the first three levels, and converges later. For the best efficiency, we take three levels in the paper.

Level 1 2 3 4 5
PSNR 28.77 29.58 29.86 29.83 29.84
SSIM 0.9273 0.9305 0.9314 0.9312 0.9312
Table 4: Comparison of different recurrent levels

The effectiveness of artifacts-penalize discriminator RP-GAN is trained without artifacts-penalized discriminator at first. The corrupted inputs cause the results show much noise and more artifacts after recurrence. Visual comparison is shown Appendix B.
Comparison on real blurred images The comparisons with other methods on real-captured images are provided in Appendix B.

Figure 8: A typical example of the end-to-end learning methods’ mistaken deblurring. Images from left to right is blurry image, result of Tao et al. [30], our estimated motion flow and our deblurred image respectively. We see Tao et al. restore the vent to a weird shape. But since we have estimated the right motion in that location, we can restore it to a reasonable shape.

7 Conclusion

In this paper, we embed the deep neural network in a conventional deblurring framework for blind deblurring. Under theoretical guidance, our method avoids the existing drawbacks of end-to-end learning methods. The restored images are more reasonable and able to restore the large and complex motion. Comparing with other methods on mainstream benchmarks, our approach outperforms the state-of-the art methods, both qualitatively and quantitatively.


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Appendix A RP-GAN structure

We use CBR

denote the convolution layer with batch normalization and relu activation function, the convolution layer has kernel size


output channels applied with stride

, use Res1 denote the first kind of Residual Block which has output channels, Res2 denote the second kind of Residual Block which has output channels, then has:
Res1 :
Res2 :
Generator :
Dp :

Appendix B Visual comparisons

b.1 Comparison on GOPRO dataset

Figure 9: More test results on GOPRO dataset. Images from top to bottom are blurry image, result of Sun et al. [26], Nah et al. [17], Tao et al. [30] and ours respectively.

b.2 The effectiveness of artifacts-penalize discriminator

Figure 10: Comparison of using artifacts-penalize discriminator before and after. Without artifacts-penalized discriminator, the quality of images with artifacts can’t be improved through recurrence. Artifacts stay or even being worse in the end.

b.3 Comparison on real blurred images

Figure 11: Comparison on real blurred images. Images from top to bottom are blurry image, result of Sun et al. [26], Nah et al. [17], Tao et al. [30] and ours respectively.