Visual communication with retinex coding seeks to suppress the spatial variation of the irradiance (e.g., shadows) across natural scenes and preserve only the spatial detail and the reflectance (or the lightness) of the surface itself. The separation of reflectance from irradiance begins with nonlinear retinex coding that sharply and clearly enhances edges and preserves their contrast, and it ends with a Wiener filter that restores images from this edge and contrast information. An approximate small-signal model of image gathering with retinex coding is found to consist of the familiar difference-of-Gaussian bandpass filter and a locally adaptive automatic-gain control. A linear representation of this model is used to develop expressions within the small-signal constraint for the information rate and the theoretical minimum data rate of the retinex-coded signal and for the maximum-realizable fidelity of the images restored from this signal. Extensive computations and simulations demonstrate that predictions based on these figures of merit correlate closely with perceptual and measured performance. Hence these predictions can serve as a general guide for the design of visual communication channels that produce images with a visual quality that consistently approaches the best possible sharpness, clarity, and reflectance constancy, even for nonuniform irradiances. The suppression of shadows in the restored image is found to be constrained inherently more by the sharpness of their penumbra than by their depth.
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