Contrast resolution

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Contrast resolution is the ability to distinguish between differences in intensity in an image.[1] The measure is used in medical imaging to quantify the quality of acquired images. It is a difficult quantity to define because it depends on the human observer as much as the quality of the actual image. For example, the size of a feature affects how easily it is detected by the observer.[2]

One definition of image contrast is:

where SA and SB are signal intensities for signal-producing structures A and B in the region of interest.[3] A disadvantage of this definition is that the contrast C can be negative. An alternative definition is:

where Sref is a reference signal intensity, which is independent of the type of signal-producing structure under investigation.[4]

This series of pictures shows that the number of row of holes that are perceived decreases as the image contrast decreases from 5.1% to 3.7% to 2.2% to 1% (left to right)

In MRI, determining contrast is of high importance for calibration because the operator has a high degree of control of how the signal intensities of various structures vary in the images by using different MRI methods and imaging parameters. Unlike most other imaging modalities, such as x-ray CT in which the Hounsfield units value for water is set to zero, there is no standard reference signal for MRI. Thus the contrast-to-noise ratio is often employed as an index for contrast because this metric does not require a reference signal.

Contrast resolution or contrast-detail is an approach to describing the image quality in terms of both the image contrast and resolution.

Contrast resolution is usually measured by generating a pattern from a test object that depicts how image contrast changes as the structures being imaged get smaller and closer together. The picture below shows one such set of images produced using the low contrast detectability inserts of the phantom employed in the MRI accreditation program of the American College of Radiology.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The encyclopaedia of medical imaging. ISBN 1-901865-13-4.
  2. ^ Oppelt, Arnulf (13 January 2006). Imaging Systems for Medical Diagnostics: Fundamentals, Technical Solutions and Applications for Systems Applying Ionizing Radiation, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Ultrasound. John Wiley & Sons. p. 44. ISBN 3-89578-226-2.
  3. ^ Hendrick, R. E.; Raff, U. (1992). Stark, David D.; Bradley, William G. (eds.). Magnetic Resonance Imaging (2nd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. pp. 109–144.
  4. ^ Edelstein, W. A.; Bottomley, P. A.; Hart, H. R.; Smith, L. S. (1983). "Signal, noise and contrast in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging". Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography. 7 (3): 391–401. doi:10.1097/00004728-198306000-00001. PMID 6841698. S2CID 20194169.