Multi-Kernel Prediction Networks for Denoising of Burst Images

02/05/2019 ∙ by Talmaj Marinč, et al. ∙ 0

In low light or short-exposure photography the image is often corrupted by noise. While longer exposure helps reduce the noise, it can produce blurry results due to the object and camera motion. The reconstruction of a noise-less image is an ill posed problem. Recent approaches for image denoising aim to predict kernels which are convolved with a set of successively taken images (burst) to obtain a clear image. We propose a deep neural network based approach called Multi-Kernel Prediction Networks (MKPN) for burst image denoising. MKPN predicts kernels of not just one size but of varying sizes and performs fusion of these different kernels resulting in one kernel per pixel. The advantages of our method are two fold: (a) the different sized kernels help in extracting different information from the image which results in better reconstruction and (b) kernel fusion assures retaining of the extracted information while maintaining computational efficiency. Experimental results reveal that MKPN outperforms state-of-the-art on our synthetic datasets with different noise levels.



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1 Introduction

Image denoising is a long-standing problem finding applications in fields ranging from astronomical imaging to hand-held photography. With the development of digital photography and smartphone technology, it has recently become possible to take high-quality photos using relatively inexpensive equipment. However, there are still major differences between the imaging capabilities of hand-held devices such as smartphones and professional equipment such as DSLRs. One of the most important factors for taking noise-free photos is to collect as much light as possible. Professional cameras contain several hardware solutions such as large aperture lenses, sensors with large photosites and high-quality A/D converters for increased light collection [1]. However, for the sake of compactness, smartphones contain smaller and less expensive variants of these hardware elements which can result in noisy imaging, especially in low light conditions. To combat this problem, image denoising algorithms are implemented as a software solution in most smartphones [2].

Classical methods for image denoising developed in the early 1990s like antisotropic diffusion [3] and total variation denoising [4] use analytical priors and non-linear optimization to recover a clear image. More recently, plain neural networks [5]

, convolutional neural networks 

[6] and neural networks with auto-encoder architectures were used for single image denoising [7, 8, 9]. The combination of the last two, a convolutional auto-encoder, showed promising results in medical image denoising [10]. The same architecture was further improved by addition of skip connections [11] placed between the encoder and the decoder. This architecture was used both in single image denoising [12, 13] as well as in denoising of the images captured in quick succession, i.e. burst image denoising [14].

Burst image denoising methods operate on a set of successive, rapidly taken images to compute a single, noise-free result. Since the noise is usually randomly distributed and a set of images obtained by the same camera have similar characteristics, it is reasonable to expect that burst image denoising tends to work better than single image denoising in most cases. Burst denoising methods commonly first align the successive images as a pre-processing step, and then fuse and denoise the aligned images [15, 2, 1, 16]. Many of the state-of-the-art approaches in burst image denoising are based on fully convolutional neural network architectures [1, 14, 16, 17].

Neural network based image denoising methods commonly operate on the whole image and predict the denoised image directly. Another approach is to design a network that can learn to predict spatially variant kernels for each pixel in the input. These per-pixel

kernels are then convolved over the input to produce the final output. This approach worked very well in video frame interpolation 

[18], denoising of renderings [19, 20] and burst image denoising [14].

In this paper we propose a novel neural network based method burst image denoising method. Our method is conceptually similar to [14] but it operates in a fundamentally different way. Specifically, instead of predicting a single, fixed-size kernel for each pixel, our method predicts kernels of multiple sizes for each pixel taking into account the spatially varying image structures. This allows our method to adapt to the properties of image structures with different properties (e.g. textured vs. non-textured, homogeneous areas) and successfully denoise a wide range of images without having to manually tweak the kernel size depending on the characteristics of the image.

2 Proposed method

2.1 Multi-Kernel Prediction Network

Figure 1: The proposed Multi-Kernel Prediction Network architecture. It predicts per pixel kernels of various sizes for each of the input images in a burst. The input of the network is a burst sequence of length , is the sum of predefined kernel sizes and is the set of these kernels. Each of the burst images is deconvolved by the predicted per pixel kernels as seen in Fig. 2 and averaged to the final output. The numbers below the blocks represent the 3-dimensional data structure at different levels of the architecture. The dimensions correspond to the .

Our goal is to perform denoising on burst images corrupted by noise due to low light or shot exposure photography. Given a noisy set of input burst images, kernels are predicted for each pixel using a deep neural network. These kernels are then convolved with their respective input pixels in the respective burst image which are then averaged to reconstruct the denoised image. [14] performed this denoising by predicting kernels of a predetermined size as given in (1):


However, images consist of heterogeneous patches where every pixel in a patch is different compared to its surrounding pixels. Flat regions like sky in an image would provide for a more certain prediction while densely cluttered leaves in an image would provide for more uncertainties in the prediction. The predicted kernels should be able accommodate to the different regions and pixels in the image. Naturally, kernels of predetermined size cannot successfully adapt to the diversity of pixels in the images.

Our method, Multi-Kernel Prediction Networks (MKPN) is a direct extension of the [14] and [18]. To the best of our knowledge this is the first attempt to utilize multiple kernels of different sizes predicted by a neural network for image denoising. Although [21] combine different kernels, they assume a fixed size of the kernel and do not use a deep learning based approach. MKPN predicts kernels of different sizes for each pixel in the image belonging to the set of burst images instead of predicting fixed-size kernels. The predicted kernels of different sizes are then convolved with each pixel in the input image from the set of noisy burst images which are then averaged to obtain the final reconstruction as described in (2):


Here is the length of the input burst, is the set of kernel sizes, is a kernel with size for pixel located at and is a patch with size in centered at . is the -th image from the input burst. Kernels of different sizes extract and accumulate information from image structures with different characteristics.

Ideally, MKPN will work well when many kernels of different sizes are used. However, convolving each kernel with its corresponding patch significantly increases the required amount of computations. In order to reduce the amount of computations, we apply two enhancements:

Separable Kernel Estimation

: We approximate the 2D kernels by a linear combination of separable 1D kernels [22, 18]. In this way the number of learnable parameters is reduced from to for each kernel of size , significantly reducing the computation cost.

Kernel Fusion: Instead of convolving each kernel separately with each image in the burst, MKPN performs in-place kernel addition as described in (3), before the convolution operation:


The accumulated kernels are then convolved with the corresponding image patches in a single operation, as shown in (4):


This essentially brings the number of convolution operations equal to that of [14]. The computational cost of the in-place additions is negligible. Note that model compression [23, 24] and efficient representations [25] can further reduce the computational costs.

2.2 Network Architecture

Fig. 1 shows an overview of the MKPN architecture. MKPN has a typical U-Net [26] shape resembling the architectures of [14, 18]

. The network consists of convolutional layers, ReLU activation functions, average pooling layers and billinear upsampling layers. The convolutional layers use

filters with zero padding and stride one, and are always followed by a ReLU activation function. The average pooling layers have a pool size of

and stride two, which in effect decreases the spatial resolution by a factor of two. On the contrary, the billinear upsampling layer increases the spatial resolution by a factor of two.

A series of convolutional and average pooling layers encode the input features into a latent representation. Series of bilinear upsampling and convolutional layers decode these features to predict the per pixel kernels. After each upsampling layer, the high resolution features from the encoder side of the architecture are concatenated to the decoder side.

The channel dimension of the layers of the last convolution block is , where is the sum of the predefined sizes of different kernels and is the number of images in the input burst. For example, if the selected kernel sizes are and , then . In addition, another billinear upsampling layer is employed which scales up the learned linear combinations of 1D per pixel kernels of various sizes to match the input shape. Outer products of 1D kernels are computed to produce the 2D kernels. These kernels are applied on the input burst using local convolution as shown in Fig. 2. Lastly, the deconvolved burst images are averaged to produce the final output.

Figure 2: Kernel fusion of the kernels of various sizes. For each kernel size kernels are predicted. Each kernel corresponds to a pixel in the input image. Kernels corresponding to the same pixel are averaged at inference. Convolving all kernels over a single input image results in an intermediate output, which is a part of intermediate outputs in Fig. 1.

2.3 Training Parameters

All experimental models were trained in end-to-end fashion using backpropagation.

Total loss consists of basic and annealing loss as devised in [14]. Basic loss is composed of mean squared error on pixel intensities and L1 loss on gradient intensities between the denoised image and the ground truth :


The basic loss tries to make the average of all estimations close to the ground truth . However, using only the basic loss can lead to convergence at an undesirable local minima that does not utilize all the images in the burst effectively [14]. Therefore, we add a second loss term annealing loss to (5) that attempts to make each estimation close to the ground truth independently. The total loss is obtained as follows:


where is the number of images in the burst, is the set of kernel sizes, and

are the hyperparameters controlling the weight decay,

is the training step, and . Please note that during training we discard in-place addition of kernels to enable better convergence. However, once the network is well trained, the in-place addition can help speed up inference.

3 Experiments

We followed the same procedure for dataset generation and noise estimation as in [14]. We trained our models and evaluated their performance on synthetically generated datasets from the Open Images dataset [27].

3.1 Data Generation

The images from the Open Images dataset were downsampled in each dimension using a box filter to reduce noise and compression artifacts. Random patches of size were sampled from the images and those were used for both creating the ground truth and the remaining burst images, where is the total number of images in the burst. These burst images are offset from the first image by and , where and are the offsets of image in horizontal and vertical directions, respectively. The offsets simulate misalignments between consecutive frames caused by hand movements that may occur during handheld photography. Values for

are sampled with probability

from a 2D uniform integer distribution between , otherwise from a 2D uniform integer distribution between , where .

The burst images are also considered to be noisy, and hence a signal dependent Gaussian noise is added to the burst:


where is the noisy measurement of true intensity at pixel . Read and shot noise parameters and are sampled uniformly from and , respectively. These ranges were selected from the real observed data. Synthetic train dataset is generated on the fly, while the test datasets are pre-generated using different gains (noise levels) that correspond to a fixed set of read and shot noise parameters. The selected values simulate the light sensitivities that correspond to the ISO settings on a real camera. The read and shot noise for each gain is as given:

  • Gain : , ,

  • Gain : , ,

  • Gain : , ,

  • Gain : , .

3.2 Noise Estimation

The camera noise is estimated from the first image in a burst. The noise estimate helps the model denoise beyond the noise levels of the training data [14]. It is defined as:


where is the intensity of pixel in the first image of a burst. In real data the noise parameters and are available in the DNG raw image format [28]. This noise estimate is of the same dimension as the burst images and is appended to the end of the burst.

In all our experiments, we set the parameters as follows , , and .

3.3 Results and Discussion

In the experiments we performed using MKPN, we define the sizes of the kernels in advance – . The kernel sizes and the number of kernels however, are not limited to these and can be used in any combination to produce the best results for a given dataset. The two enhancements are utilized in the end-to-end training of MKPN, as explained in Section 2.1. We evaluate the performance of MKPN by comparing it to state-of-the-art models for burst image denoising:

  • KPN [14] is a kernel prediction network that outputs per-pixel kernels of fixed size (set here to ) which are then convolved with the input burst images to obtain the output.

  • KPN where and stands for kernel sizes of . Here, the network architecture is the same as KPN but the network predicts separable kernels [18] to reduce the computational burden (cf. Section 2.1). In total, we train eight models with different kernel sizes .

Each model was trained for 1M iterations and evaluated on four pre-computed test datasets, each one generated with a different noise level. Quantitative analysis is performed using objective quality metrics such as PSNR and SSIM [29] as shown in Table 1. For a qualitative evaluation, we visually inspect the images of MKPN and state-of-the-art models as shown in Fig. 3 and Fig. 4.

Gain 1 Gain 2 Gain 4 Gain 8
MKPN 35.10 0.925 32.22 0.878 28.61 0.781 25.78 0.692
KPN [14] 34.28 0.914 31.46 0.862 27.86 0.756 24.90 0.654
KPN  34.96 0.922 32.04 0.871 28.44 0.770 25.66 0.686
KPN 34.71 0.918 31.77 0.870 28.15 0.772 25.34 0.683
KPN 34.67 0.919 31.78 0.871 28.15 0.773 25.26 0.679
KPN 34.57 0.917 31.63 0.867 28.07 0.769 25.34 0.681
KPN 34.54 0.918 31.65 0.866 28.10 0.765 25.37 0.679
KPN 34.30 0.906 31.36 0.855 27.76 0.754 24.88 0.658
KPN 33.65 0.897 30.79 0.844 27.26 0.735 24.55 0.632
KPN 31.66 0.837 28.50 0.759 24.32 0.607 21.30 0.486
Table 1: Results on test datasets with different gains (noise levels) in measures of PSNR and SSIM, where Gain 8 is the noisiest. MKPN outperforms the state-of-the-art KPN [14] and other KPN variations.

Table 1 compares the performance of different models and shows the average values for the four test datasets with different noise levels. It is to be noted that KPN  performs almost the same as KPN [14] with a reduced number of computations due to the separable kernels. Among the state-of-the-art models, we find that KPN  shows superior performance – even better than KPN [14]. The results in Table 1 also indicate that the results, in terms of PSNR and SSIM, get better as the size of the kernel increases. This can be attributed to the increased information that the kernels can extract from the surrounding region of the pixel and use it for better denoising. MKPN, on the other hand, combines the different kernels and outperforms all state-of-the-art models – KPN [14] and the derived KPN  on all test datasets for each noise level.

In Fig. 3 and Fig. 4, we inspect the denoised images from the test dataset to reveal the properties of different kernel sizes and the advantages of MKPN over KPN. The first row displays the full image while the second row shows an enlarged part marked by the green rectangle in the corresponding images in the first row. The order of images in the columns is as follows – noisy input burst, denoising results of KPN [14], KPN , MKPN and the ground truth. In Fig. 3, we find that the reconstructed image of KPN [14] is better than that of KPN . Although, in Table 1, KPN  performed superior to other state-of-the-art models, the denoised images from KPN  are oversmoothed due to the large size of the kernels. Hence, using a large kernel results in suboptimal visual quality of the denoised image. MKPN restores the structure of fur in Fig. 3 with more detail than other state-of-the-art models. In Fig. 4, KPN [14] fails to smooth out the background well enough. This is due to the small kernel trying to greedily denoise the local region, giving it an unrealistic texture. KPN , on the other hand, denoises the background efficiently, but fails to recover the sharp edges. With MKPN, the legs of the grasshopper are reconstructed sharply while having a smooth background.

Figure 3: Example of denoising an image of a bear at Gain 4. The detailed fur is recovered best by MKPN. KPN  that uses a large kernel oversmooths the details of the fur. Best viewed on a screen.
Figure 4: Example of denoising an image of a grasshopper at Gain  8. The detailed legs and smooth background are best recovered by the proposed method MKPN. Best viewed on a screen.

While KPN models with small kernels are able to reconstruct detailed features more successfully, their performance on flat, homogeneous areas is worse compared to the KPN models using larger kernels. On the other hand, KPN models with larger kernels tend to oversmooth the detailed features. MKPN manages to alleviate the shortcomings of the KPN models relying on fixed kernel sizes.

4 Conclusion

Burst image denoising, with its inherent challenges, remains to be an open problem. In this work, we propose MKPN, a DNN based method for denoising of burst images captured by handheld cameras. The novelty of this method lies in predicting kernels of different sizes and performing kernel fusion by in-place addition before the convolution operation. MKPN effectively combines the best behavior of small and large kernels – it manages to denoise flat areas as well as preserve the detailed image structures. Kernel fusion ensures that MKPN is able to extract different information from the different kernels without compromising on computational efficiency. We empirically show that MKPN outperforms state-of-the-art models quantitatively and provides visually pleasing results.


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