Abstract

An absolute scale of performance is set up in terms of the performance of an ideal picture pickup device, that is, one limited only by random fluctuations in the primary photo process. Only one parameter, the quantum efficiency of the primary photo process, locates position on this scale. The characteristic equation for the performance of an ideal device has the form

BC2α2=constant

where B is the luminance of the scene, and C and α are respectively the threshold contrast and angular size of a test object in the scene. This ideal type of performance is shown to be satisfied by a simple experimental television pickup arrangement. By means of the arrangement, two parameters, storage time of the eye and threshold signal-to-noise ratio are determined to be 0.2 seconds and five respectively. Published data on the performance of the eye are compared with ideal performance. In the ranges of B(10−6 to 102 footlamberts), C(2 to 100 percent) and α(2′ to 100′), the performance of the eye may be matched by an ideal device having a quantum efficiency of 5 percent at low lights and 0.5 percent at high lights. This is of considerable technical importance in simplifying the analysis of problems involving comparisons of the performance of the eye and man-made devices. To the extent that independent measurements of the quantum efficiency of the eye confirm the values (0.5 percent to 5.0 percent), the performance of the eye is limited by fluctuations in the primary photo process. To the same extent, other mechanisms for describing the eye that do not take these fluctuations into account are ruled out. It is argued that the phenomenon of dark adaptation can be ascribed only in small part to the primary photo-process and must be mainly controlled by a variable gain mechanism located between the primary photo-process and the nerve fibers carrying pulses to the brain.

© 1948 Optical Society of America

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Equations (16)

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