WO1999046637A1 - System and method for the automatic capture of salient still images - Google Patents

System and method for the automatic capture of salient still images

Info

Publication number
WO1999046637A1
WO1999046637A1 PCT/US1999/005370 US9905370W WO1999046637A1 WO 1999046637 A1 WO1999046637 A1 WO 1999046637A1 US 9905370 W US9905370 W US 9905370W WO 1999046637 A1 WO1999046637 A1 WO 1999046637A1
Authority
WO
Grant status
Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
image
exposure
capture
salient
still
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US1999/005370
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Eric C. Anderson
Original Assignee
Flashpoint Technology, Inc.
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

Links

Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04NPICTORIAL COMMUNICATION, e.g. TELEVISION
    • H04N5/00Details of television systems
    • H04N5/222Studio circuitry; Studio devices; Studio equipment ; Cameras comprising an electronic image sensor, e.g. digital cameras, video cameras, TV cameras, video cameras, camcorders, webcams, camera modules for embedding in other devices, e.g. mobile phones, computers or vehicles
    • H04N5/225Television cameras ; Cameras comprising an electronic image sensor, e.g. digital cameras, video cameras, video cameras, camcorders, webcams, camera modules for embedding in other devices, e.g. mobile phones, computers or vehicles
    • H04N5/235Circuitry or methods for compensating for variation in the brightness of the object, e.g. based on electric image signals provided by an electronic image sensor

Abstract

An electronic imaging device (110) for the automatic capture of salient still images of the image (112). The device further having a camera computer (118) for detecting a high contrast image and notifying the presence of the high contrast image and controlling the exposure of the device for selecting salient still capture mode, and storing salient still images in a computer readable storage medium.

Description

SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR THE AUTOMATIC CAPTURE OF

SALIENT STILL IMAGES

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

This invention relates generally to electronic imaging devices and

more particularly to a system and method for the automatic capture of

salient still images by an electronic imaging device.

2. Description of the Background Art

One of the advantages of digital cameras is their ability to capture

images of objects for later manipulation by computer graphics programs.

However, digital cameras have a limited dynamic range of exposure

sensitivity.

In conventional photography, photographic films capture a wide

range of light exposure levels. These films capture detail in both shadow

or dark areas and light or bright areas with a single camera exposure of

the film. Digital cameras, however, have a much narrower dynamic

range due to the use of a charged-coupled device (CCD.) Thus, unlike

conventional photographic exposure that captures shadow detail without

washing-out image highlights in a high contrast scene, a digital camera will lose a substantial amount of detail in either the darkest areas of the

image, or in the brightest areas, or both.

Conventionally, photographers employ a manual method of camera

operation known as "bracketing" of exposure setting to record images on

photographic film. A photographer takes a first picture at a first

exposure setting by adjusting the f-stop on the camera lens and/ or the

shutter speed dial on the camera body. The photographer then takes a

second picture at a second exposure setting for a different light level by

changing the f-stop and/or shutter speed. The first exposure setting

admits more light for the first picture while the second exposure setting

admits less light for the second picture, or vice versa. Thus, the image is

said to be "bracketed" between these two settings.

One of the bracketed images on the developed photographic film

reveals more detail in the darker areas of the picture while the other

bracketed image reveals more detail in the lighter areas. The

photographer chooses which of the bracketed images appears best, but

conventional photographic methods do not provide any method of

combining the images at time of capture to produce the best detail of

each. The prior art, however, provides for methods of digitizing the

images after the film is developed. Once the bracketed exposures are

digitized, a variety of post-production editing programs are available to

combine the images. Automatic cameras allow the photographer to "autobracket" a

given image. The photographer sets the range of the bracketing feature

(the X factor.) The camera's autobracketing feature then captures a

series of images, typically one at the auto metered point, plus one on either side of the metered exposure (usually at +X and -X.) The

photographer may then choose which of the images captured by the

autobracketing feature to keep, based on the resulting images after

processing.

What is required is a method to automatically calculate the need

for bracketing, and to calculate the bracketed exposures to capture the

image in its full detail. In addition, what is required is a method to put

the image data in a form that the computer software may automatically

recognize and change into a single, distortion-free image.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to an improvement in digital imaging

devices, including digital cameras, and comprises a system and method

for the automatic capture of salient still images.

A user initially sets an exposure control coupled to the electronic

imaging device for selecting a salient still capture mode. During

operation, a camera control sub-system detects a high contrast image.

The camera control sub-system notifies a control application that the

camera control sub-system has detected the high contrast image. The

control application responsively notifies the user that a high contrast

image has been detected. Then, the imaging device determines which of

two salient still capture modes has been selected: (1) salient still capture

automatic mode, or (2) salient still capture manual mode.

During salient still capture automatic mode, the present invention

automatically captures a plurality of salient still images. In one

embodiment, the auto-exposure (AE) mechanism of the camera

determines an average exposure value of the high contrast image. The

invention then captures two images based upon the auto-exposure value.

The camera exposes the first salient still image to capture the dark image

data of the high contrast image and exposes the second salient still

image to capture the bright image data of the high contrast image. A capture manager automatically adjusts the exposure setting for

the first salient image by setting the exposure a pre-set value below (-X)

the auto-exposure average value to capture the dark image. The capture

manager then automatically adjusts the exposure setting for the second

salient image by setting the exposure a pre-set value above (+X) the auto-

exposure average value to capture the bright image. These exposures are

hopefully far enough apart to capture the dark and bright image data

while maintaining an optimum image overlap in order to capture

adequate image detail. In the preferred embodiment, the +X and -X

values are loaded during initial camera set-up.

In a second embodiment, the AE mechanism determines an auto-

exposure dark value and an auto-exposure bright value of the high

contrast image. The AE mechanism then subtracts the auto-exposure

dark value from the auto-exposure bright value, divides the result by

two, and uses this mean value as the AE average. The AE mechanism

then determines the number of images to capture based upon the

difference between the auto-exposure dark value and the auto-exposure

bright value. If the difference exceeds the dynamic range of the two

captures with overlap, then three or more images are required.

In either embodiment, the captured images are tagged as salient

images and grouped together. Preferably, the grouped files are stored in

salient image folders either during or after capture process is completed. The two salient images are later combined into a single digital image by

software routines. Alternatively, the images are combined during initial

processing and stored as a single image.

During salient still capture manual mode, the present invention

offers the user a choice of whether or not to capture two salient still images. If the user selects to capture the two salient still images, the

invention proceeds as in automatic mode. On the other hand, if the user

does not enable the dual capture, then only a single image will be

captured. Thus, the present invention provides a method to automatically

calculate the need for bracketing, and to calculate the bracketed

exposures to capture a high contrast image in its full detail. In addition,

the present invention provides a method to put the image data in a form

that the computer software may automatically recognize and change into

a single, distortion-free image.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of a digital camera;

FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the imaging device of FIG. 1 ;

FIG. 3 is a block diagram of the camera computer of FIG. 1 ;

FIG. 4 is a diagram illustrating the software stored in the non¬

volatile memory of FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 is a memory map of the dynamic random-access memory of

FIG. 3;

FIG. 6(a) is a rear elevation view of the camera;

FIG. 6(b) is a top plan view of the camera;

FIG. 6(c) is a plan view of the view screen of FIG. 6(a);

FIG. 7 is a block diagram of one embodiment for the salient still

capture image folders, according to the present invention;

FIG. 8(a) is a representation of a high contrast object;

FIG. 8(b) is an image representation of the high contrast, showing

the salient still image capture zones;

FIG. 9(a) is a graph representing the transition from a dark zone to

a bright zone of the high contrast image of FIG. 8(b), with exposure

adjusted for the brightest areas;

FIG. 9(b) is a graph representing the transition from a dark zone to

a bright zone of the high contrast image of FIG. 8(b), with exposure

adjusted for the darkest areas;

7 FIG. 10(a) is a graph representing the transition from a dark zone

to a bright zone of the high contrast image of FIG. 8(b) showing

bracketed exposures adjusted for both the lightest and darkest areas;

FIG. 10(b) is a graph representing the transition from a dark zone

to a bright zone of the high contrast image of FIG. 8(b) showing

bracketed exposures adjusted by the auto-exposure mechanism of the

imaging device;

FIG. 1 1(a) is a flowchart of preferred method steps for generating

and capturing salient still images, according to the present invention;

and

FIG. 11(b) is a flowchart of preferred method steps for performing

the image capture module of the present invention.

8 DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

The present invention relates to an improvement in digital imaging

devices, including digital cameras. The following description is presented

to enable one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention

and is provided in the context of a patent application and its

requirements. Although the present invention will be described in the

context of a digital camera, various modifications to the preferred

embodiment will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art and the

generic principles herein may be applied to other embodiments. That is,

any image capture device which displays images, icons and/or other

items, could incorporate the features described hereinbelow and that

device would be within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

Thus, the present invention is not intended to be limited to the

embodiment shown but is to be accorded the widest scope consistent

with the principles and features described herein.

The present invention comprises a system and method for the

automatic capture of salient still images by a digital imaging device. The

invention comprises means for detecting a high contrast image, means

for notifying a user of the presence of the high contrast image, and a

means for capturing a plurality of salient still images to increase the

dynamic range of the electronic imaging device. In addition, the

invention comprises an exposure control coupled to said electronic

9 imaging device for selecting salient still capture mode, means for

determining a mode of operation for the capture of the salient still

images, and means for storing the salient still images in a computer-

readable storage medium.

Referring to FIG. 1 , a block diagram of a digital camera 1 10

connected to a host computer 120 is shown. Camera 110 preferably

comprises an imaging capture device 114, a system bus 1 16, and a

camera computer 118. Imaging capture device 1 14 is optically coupled

to an object 1 12 and electrically coupled via system bus 1 16 to camera

computer 1 18. Once a user has focused imaging capture device 1 14 on

object 112 and instructed camera 1 10 to capture an image of object 112,

camera computer 118 commands imaging capture device 1 14 via system

bus 1 16 to capture image data representing object 1 12. The captured

image data is transferred over system bus 1 16 to camera computer 118

which performs image processing functions on the image data. System

bus 116 also passes various status and control signals between imaging

capture device 1 14 and camera computer 1 18.

Referring now to FIG. 2, a block diagram of one embodiment of

imaging capture device 1 14 is shown. Imaging capture device 1 14

typically comprises a lens 220 having an iris (not shown), a filter 222, an

10 image sensor 224, a timing generator 226, an analog signal processor

(ASP) 228, an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter 230, an interface 232,

and one or more motors 234.

Imaging capture device 1 14 captures an image of object 1 12 via light incident on image sensor 224 along optical path 236. Image sensor 224, which is typically a conventional charged-coupled device (CCD),

responsively generates image data in CCD format representing the

captured image 112. The image data is then routed through ASP 228,

A/D converter 230 and interface 232. Interface 232 has outputs for

controlling ASP 228, motors 234 and timing generator 226. From

interface 232, image data passes over system bus 116 to camera

computer 1 18.

Referring now to FIG. 3, a block diagram of one embodiment for

camera computer 1 18 is shown. System bus 1 16 provides connection

paths between imaging capture device 114, electrically- erasable

programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) 341 , an optional power

manager 342, central processing unit (CPU) 344, dynamic

random-access memory (DRAM) 346, camera input/ output (I/O) 348,

non-volatile memory 350, and buffers /connector 352. Removable

memory 354 connects to system bus 1 16 via buffers/ connector 352. In

1 1 alternate embodiments, removable memory 354 and/or

buffers /connector 352 are omitted.

Power manager 342 communicates via line 366 with power supply

356 and coordinates power management operations for camera 1 10.

CPU 344 typically includes a conventional processor device for

controlling the operation of camera 1 10. CPU 344 is capable of

concurrently running multiple software routines to control the various

processes of camera 110 within a multi-threading environment. DRAM

346 is a contiguous block of dynamic memory, which may be selectively

allocated to various storage functions. LCD controller 390 accesses

DRAM 346 and transfers processed image data to LCD screen 302 for

display.

Camera I/O 348 is an interface device allowing communications to

and from camera computer 1 18. For example, camera I/O 348 permits

an external host computer (not shown) to connect to and communicate

with camera computer 118. Camera I/O 348 also interfaces with a

plurality of buttons and/or dials 304, and an optional status LCD 306,

which, in addition to LCD screen 302, are the hardware elements of the

camera's user interface 308.

Non-volatile memory 350, preferably a conventional read-only

memory or flash memory, stores a set of computer-readable program

instructions to control the operation of camera 1 10. Removable memory

12 354 serves as an additional image data storage area and is preferably a

non-volatile device, readily removable and replaceable by a camera 1 10

user via buffers/ connector 352. Thus, a user may replace a full

removable memory 354 with an empty removable memory 354 to

effectively expand the picture-taking capacity of digital camera 1 10.

Preferably, removable memory 354 is a flash disk.

Power supply 356 supplies operating power to the various

components of camera 1 10 and also provides operating power to main

power bus 362 and secondary power bus 364. The main power bus 362

sends power to imaging capture device 1 14, camera I/O 348, non-volatile

memory 350 and removable memory 354. The secondary power bus 364

conducts power to power manager 342, CPU 344 and DRAM 346.

Power supply 356 is connected to main batteries 358 and backup

batteries 360. A user may optionally attach power supply 356 to an

external power source. During normal operation of power supply 356,

the main batteries 358 provide operating power to power supply 356

which then provides the operating power to camera 1 10 via both main

power bus 362 and secondary power bus 364. During a power failure

mode in which the main batteries 358 have failed (when their output

voltage has fallen below a minimum operational voltage level), the

backup batteries 360 provide operating power to power supply 356 which

then provides the operating power to the secondary power bus 364 only.

13 Referring now to FIG. 4, a diagram illustrating the software stored

in non-volatile memory 350 is shown. Non-volatile memory 350 includes

control application 400, camera control sub-system 418, capture

manager 410, camera manager 412, toolbox 402, drivers 404, kernel

406, and system configuration 408. Control application 400 comprises

program instructions for controlling and coordinating functions of

camera 1 10. Camera control sub-system 418 contains selected control

modules including auto-exposure (AE) mechanism 420. Toolbox 402

contains selected function modules including graphic toolbox 414 and

sound toolbox 416.

Control application 400 includes software routines which

coordinate functions related to user interface 308, including displaying

information on LCD screen 302 and handling information input from

buttons and dials 304. Capture manager 410 includes software routines

which capture salient still images and stores them in DRAM 346.

Camera manager 412 includes software routines to inform camera

control sub-system 418 of global parameter values and to provide the

interface to camera control sub-system for the system. AE mechanism

420 includes the software routines for calculating auto-exposure values

and detecting high dynamic range conditions.

Drivers 404 control various hardware devices within camera 1 10

(for example, motors 234). Kernel 406 provides basic services for the

14 operating system of camera 1 10. System configuration 408 performs

initial start-up routines for camera 1 10, including the boot routine and

initial system diagnostics.

Now referring to FIG. 5, a memory map of dynamic

random-access-memory (DRAM) 346 is shown. DRAM 346 includes RAM

disk 532, system area 534, and working memory 530.

RAM disk 532 is a memory area used for storing raw and

compressed image data and is organized in a "sectored" format similar to

that of conventional hard disk drives. A conventional and standardized

file system permits external host computer systems, via I/O 348, to

recognize and access the data stored on RAM disk 532. System area 534

stores data regarding system errors (e.g., why a system shutdown

occurred) for use by CPU 344 to restart computer 1 18.

Working memory 530 includes stacks, data structures and

variables used by CPU 344 while executing the software routines used

within camera computer 1 18. Working memory 530 also includes input

buffers 538 for initially storing sets of image data received from imaging

device 1 14 for image conversion, and frame buffers 536 for storing data

to display on LCD screen 302. Input buffers 538 include salient still

capture buffers 540 for storing data from the salient still capture

process. Alternatively, one input buffer may be used where processing is

15 fast enough to enable rapid capture due to hardware acceleration or to

very high speed CPU.

Control application 400 captures object 1 12 into salient still image

buffer 540. Software is stored in non-volatile memory 350 and executed

on CPU 344. However, those skilled in the art will recognize that the

capture process may also be hardware implemented.

FIGS. 6(a), 6(b), and 6(c) depict hardware components of user

interface 308 of camera 1 10. FIG. 6(a) is a rear view of camera 1 10

showing, in the preferred embodiment, LCD screen 302, a four- way

navigation control button 609, an overlay button 612, a menu button

614, and a set of programmable soft keys 616. In an alternative

embodiment, an optical viewfinder may be used in place of LCD screen

302. In the alternative embodiment, an LED warning indicator may be

used in the optical viewfinder with an additional audio signal. FIG. 6(b)

is a top view of camera 1 10 showing a shutter button 618, and a mode

dial 620. The camera optionally includes status LCD 306, status LCD

scroll and select buttons 622 and 624, a sound record button 626, and

zoom-in, zoom-out buttons 626a and 626b.

FIG. 6(c) is an expanded view of LCD screen 302 showing a salient

still capture mode text warning area 640, salient still capture mode

warning indicator 650, and screen image display area 660. The present

16 invention optionally incorporates an audio warning (not shown). All

three warning devices notify the user that salient still capture mode is in

operation and that the display of object 1 12 may take longer than normal

operation. Also, any combination of the three warning types is possible.

User interface 308 includes several operating modes for supporting

various camera functions. Among these are manual salient still capture

mode and automatic salient still capture mode. The user switches

between the camera modes by selecting a menu option using menu

button 614 that displays a selection menu on image display area 660.

The user then selects the desired salient still capture mode and closes

the menu. When the camera is placed into a particular mode, default

screen images for that mode appear on LCD screen 302 (e.g., icons and

text). Alternatively, programmable soft keys 616 may be used to select

capture mode or type.

Referring now to FIG. 7, a block diagram of one embodiment for

salient still capture image folder 1300 is shown. Both dark image file

1304 and bright image file 1306 are marked as salient still capture

images by appending salient still capture image tag 1302 to files 1304,

1306. Dark image file 1304 contains salient still capture dark image

data 1310 and bright image file 1306 contains salient still capture bright

image data 1312. In the preferred embodiment, salient still capture

17 image folder 1300 contains two salient still images. Alternatively, salient

still capture image folder 1300 may contain multiple salient still images.

Tagged files 1304, 1306 are stored together in salient still capture image

folder 1300 which has a default salient still capture name 1308 that identifies the images within the specific folder as salient still capture

images.

Salient still capture image folders 1300 may be uniquely named to

indicate that they are salient still capture folders 1300. Alternatively,

only salient still capture image tags 1302 are used and the images are

stored together. However, with the alternative method, the images are

more difficult to locate and retrieve than with the preferred method of

using both salient still capture image tags 1302 and uniquely identifying

salient still capture image folders 1300 with salient still capture name

1308. Salient still capture image folder 1300 is stored in DRAM 346 or,

alternatively, in removable memory 354.

Referring now to FIG. 8(a), a representation of high contrast image

800 of object scene 112 is shown as viewed by the user through an

opening or boundary 805. Such high contrast images 800 commonly

occur when the user attempts to capture object 112 through the end of a

tunnel or an open window, for example. This situation creates a high

contrast of light levels between bright area 860 and dark area 870 of

18 scene 800. Because of the dramatic contrast of light levels between the

two areas, camera 1 10 detects light area 860 around object 1 12 as

extreme bright and detects dark area 870 inside opening 805 as black.

In such a situation, camera 1 10 detects little or no detail in either dark

area 870 or light area 860, depending upon the capabilities of camera 110. To the user, bright area 860 appears "washed-out," dark area 870

appears black, or both. This condition only occurs when the light levels

in the two areas are far apart, beyond the dynamic range of the CCD or

sensing device.

Referring now to FIG. 8(b), a second representation of high

contrast image 800 is shown partitioned into salient image zones 810.

Preferably, high contrast image 800 is partitioned into a plurality of

square salient image zones 810 defined by vertical lines 840 and

horizontal lines 850. Salient image zones 810 shown in FIG. 8(b) are not

representative of the actual size or shape of zones, but are shown for

illustrative purposes only. Those skilled in the art will recognize that the

zones may vary in geometric shape, size, and aspect ratio.

High contrast image 800 is thus divided into a plurality of dark

zones 820 and a plurality of bright zones 830. Because camera 1 10 does

not have sufficient dynamic range to capture image detail in both dark

zones 820 and bright zones 830, dark zones 820 appear black with no

19 image detail and/or bright zones 830 appear white with no image detail.

Thus, with a single exposure of high contrast image 800, camera 1 10

loses or is unable to capture substantial detail in either dark zones 820

or bright zones 830, or both.

Referring now to FIG. 9(a), a graph representing the transition from

dark zone 820 to bright zone 830 of high contrast image 800 is shown

plotting light level 1000 versus image zones 1010. The exposure setting of camera 1 10 is adjusted for high contrast image's 800 bright area 860,

according to the present embodiment. At this exposure, camera 1 10 is

unable to detect any detail below dark threshold 1040. Any dark image

data 1020 located in dark zone 820 is below dark threshold 1040.

However, camera 110 is able to detect bright image data 1030 from

bright zone 830. Thus, at this exposure setting, all image detail in dark

zones 820 is lost but image detail in bright zones 830 is recorded by

camera 110.

Referring to FIG. 9(b), on the other hand, a graph representing the

transition from dark zone 820 to bright zone 830 is shown where camera

1 10 exposure is adjusted for high contrast image's 800 dark area 870.

(FIG. 9(b) graphs light level 1000 versus plotted image zones 1010 of high

contrast image 800.) Camera 1 10 is adjusted for high contrast image's

20 800 dark area 870, but at this exposure, camera 1 10 is unable to detect

any detail above bright threshold 1050. Any bright image data 1030,

located in bright zone 830, is above bright threshold 1050. However,

camera 1 10 is able to detect light dark image data 1020 from dark zone

820. Thus, at the exposure setting for dark zones 820, all image detail in

bright zone 830 is lost and image detail in dark zone 820 is captured by

camera 110.

Referring now to FIG. 10(a), a graph representing light levels 1000

versus zones 1010 for the transition from dark zone 820 to bright zone

830 of high contrast image 800 is shown. In this first embodiment of the

present invention, FIG. 10(a) shows the two salient still capture images:

dark image 1111 where camera 110 exposure is automatically adjusted

for dark areas 870, and bright image 1 120 where camera 1 10 exposure is

automatically adjusted for bright areas 860. Preferably, the exposures of

the two salient still capture images are adjusted so that the image data

captured in both salient images contains a small portion of data,

represented by salient image overlap 1 130, that is common to both

captured images. That is, the two exposure settings are calculated to

obtain a minimum amount of common image data to enable the eventual

match-up of the two salient still capture images. Salient image overlap

21 1 130 is the distance between dark threshold 1040 and bright threshold

1050.

Preferably, AE mechanism 420 averages all zones 810 together and

treats each zone 810 as if all zones 810 have the same or equal

brightness. This averaging hopefully results in an auto-exposure average

value 1 160 between bright areas 860 and dark area 870 of high contrast

image 800. Capture manager 410 automatically adjusts the exposure

setting for the first salient image by setting the exposure a pre-set value

below (-X) the auto-exposure average value 1 160 in order that dark

image 1111 captures dark image data 1020 of dark area 870. Capture

manager 410 then automatically adjusts the exposure setting for the

second salient image by setting the exposure a pre-set value above (+X)

the auto-exposure average value 1 160 in order that bright image 1 120

captures bright image data 1030 of bright area 860. These exposures are

hopefully far enough apart to capture dark image data 1020 and bright

image data 1030 while maintaining an optimum overlap 1130 in order to

capture adequate image detail. Preferably, camera manager 410

captures two salient still capture images based upon the +X and -X

values loaded during initial camera set-up. These values may be, for

example, V_ f-stop above and Vi f-stop below the auto-exposure average

value 1160.

22 Referring now to FIG. 10(b), a graph representing light levels 1000

versus zones 1010 for the transition from dark zone 820 to bright zone

830 of high contrast image 800 is shown. In this second embodiment of

the present invention, the FIG. 10(b) representation shows the effect of

AE mechanism 420 settings of camera 110 in conjunction with the salient still capture of high contrast image 800. As in FIG. 10(a), the

graph shows the transition from dark zone 830 to bright zone 820 of high

contrast image 800.

In the FIG. 10(b) embodiment, AE mechanism 420 determines the

auto-exposure average dark value 1 170 of auto-exposure dark image

1 140 and the auto-exposure average bright value 1180 of auto-exposure

bright image 1150. AE mechanism 420 subtracts auto-exposure average

dark value 1170 from auto-exposure average bright value 1180, divides

the result by two (2), and uses this mean value as the AE average. This

process may require multiple exposures during the AE process because

the required exposures need to be adjusted up or down in order for AE

mechanism 420 to sense the darkest and brightest areas correctly and

for AE mechanism 420 to obtain the proper exposure values. AE

mechanism 420 then determines the number of images to capture based

upon the difference between auto exposure average bright value 1 180

and auto exposure average dark value 1 170 (1 180 minus 1 170.) If the

difference (1 180 minus 1 170) exceeds the dynamic range of the two

23 captures with overlap, then three or more images are required. This

method does not assume that the difference ( 1 180 minus 1 170) is within

the range of -X below and +X above the AE average value 1 160 as

described in reference to FIG. 10(a). Rather, AE mechanism 420 uses

the difference ( 1 180 minus 1 170) to determine the number of exposures

required to cover all exposure levels between the two values (1 180 and

1170.)

During operation of the AE mechanism 420, the invention may

vary the exposure over several frames to determine the proper values for

the auto-exposure average dark value 1 170, the auto-exposure average

bright value 1 180, and the AE average. This analysis of a series of

exposures, performed by multiple passes of the sensing system during

the pre-capture AE calculation, would be done where the CCD dynamic

range is exceed in order to prevent the clipping of image data outside the

bright range of the CCD. Clipping occurs when the maximum capacity of

the CCD is reached and data is lost. At the dark end, data is lost in the

noise level of the image. Such clipping of image data and image noise

would result in an inaccurate AE calculation, resulting in an inaccurate

exposure.

Because the light level contrast between the two images may be

great, camera 1 10 may not be able to effectively use the AE average and

still maintain an optimum overlap 1 130. Thus, in a further refinement of

24 the present invention (not shown), the user is given the option of choosing between the method of capturing the images +X above and -X

below AE average value 1 160, and the method of capturing multiple

images that span the range between auto-exposure average bright value

1 180 and auto-exposure average dark value 1 170. In such an

embodiment, camera 110 reports both methods to the user on display

302 and allows the user to choose between the two methods of image

capture.

Further enhancements of the invention could be achieved by more

detailed analysis of the salient still images in memory. For example,

camera control sub-system 418 could find the darkest and lightest pixels

of high contrast image 800 and perform the analysis of the images on a

pixel-by-pixel basis rather than on a zone basis.

Referring now to FIG. 1 1 (a), a flowchart of the preferred method

steps to execute salient still capture module of the present invention is

shown. Initially in step 1401, the user presses menu button 614 and

selects mode set-up. Alternatively, the salient still capture mode may be

selected by the use of programmer soft keys 616. Next, in step 1402,

control application 400 determines if salient still capture mode is set to

off. If salient still capture mode is not set to off, control application 400

continues processing the salient still capture module at step 1403.

25 However, if salient still capture mode is set to off, control application 400

exits salient still capture module.

If salient still capture mode is selected, then, in step 1403, the

user depresses shutter 618 to the S I position which selects the AE mode

of camera 110. Next, in step 1404, camera control sub-system (CCS)

418 detects high contrast image 800.

Next in step 1405, camera control sub-system 418 notifies control

application 400 that camera control sub-system 418 has detected a high

contrast image 800. In addition, control application 400 notifies the user that camera control sub-system 418 has detected high contrast image

800. Preferably, control application 400 notifies the user by a

combination of text in LCD display 302 text warning area 640, icon

warning light 650, or audio signal as described in reference to FIG. 6(c).

This notification alerts the user that the camera operation may take

longer to process the image because camera control sub-system 418 has

detected high contrast image 800.

Next in step 1406, control application 400 determines whether the

user has selected salient still capture (SSC) automatic mode, or manual

mode. The preferred embodiment permits two possible user selections:

(1) SSC automatic mode is selected 1407, or (2) manual SSC mode is

selected 1408. If the user has selected manual SSC mode 1408, capture

manager 412 performs the method steps beginning at step 1416.

26 If SSC automatic mode is selected 1407, capture manager 410, at

step 1414, then executes the method steps necessary to perform the

image capture module as represented in steps 1509 through 1513 of

FIG. 1 1 (b).

In the preferred embodiment, after step 1414, capture manager

410 exits salient still capture mode and the salient still images are

combined at a later time. Alternatively, after executing the image

capture module at step 1414, capture manager 410 may combine the

salient still images into a single image. Any of a series of known merging

techniques may be used to match the two images. Such techniques may

include the following: (1) determining an offset to achieve spatial

alignment and aligning the images on a pixel-by-pixel basis, (2)

determining common areas of the two images and adjusting the exposure

overlapping areas so that the common areas are equal in brightness, (3)

selecting pixels form the dark image where the pixels are below the

darkest area of the exposure overlapped area, or (4) selecting pixels from

the light image where the pixel is above the brightest area of the

exposure overlapped area. In techniques 3 and 4 above, it is customary

to use a transfer function to reduce the dynamic range of the final image.

The combination of the two salient still images may be performed at the time of capture or, preferably, at a subsequent time.

27 If, at step 1406, control application 400 determines that the user selected manual SSC mode 1408, capture manager 410, at step 1417,

preferably determines which of two possible user events have been

selected: (1) salient still capture mode 1418, or (2) user override event

1419. If the user has selected salient still capture mode 1418, capture

manager 410 proceeds as described above for automatic SSCM capture

in reference to step 1414. However, if the user has selected user override

event 1419, capture manager 410, at step 1420, captures a single image.

Then, at step 1421 , capture manager 410 stores the single image in

memory.

Referring now to FIG. 1 1 (b), a flowchart of preferred method steps

performed by image capture module (represented as step 1409 in FIG.

1 1(a)) is shown. Initially at step 1509, the user chooses whether to

proceed with salient still capture by either depressing shutter 618 to the

S2 position or releasing shutter 618 to the SO position. If shutter 618 is

in the SO or released position, control manager 410 returns control to

control application 400 and does not process the salient still images. If

shutter 618 is in the S I position, control application 400 waits until

shutter 618 position is changed.

However, once the user depresses shutter 618 to the S2 position,

control application 400, at step 1510, is notified that shutter 618 is in

28 the S2 position and control application 400 notifies capture manager 410

of the S2 event. Preferably, this event occurs when the user lightly

depresses camera shutter 618. By depressing the camera shutter 618

from the S I position to the S2 position, the user has indicated to control

application 400 to proceed with capturing the salient still images.

Next, in step 1511 , capture manager 410 preferably directs camera

control sub-system 418 to capture dark image 1120 and bright image

1 130 based upon the +X and -X values passed to control application 400

in step 1404 of FIG. 11(a). The +X value is saved as tag information in

bright image file 1306 and the -X value is saved as tag information in

dark image file 1304.

Alternatively, camera control sub-system 418 may notify capture

manager 410 if more than two images must be captured and what values

to use for +X and -X. Preferably, this could be accomplished by

including the total count of images taken within image tags 1302.

Placing shutter 618 in the S2 position then causes a first image to be

captured. Image tag 1302 includes exposure values, a salient tag 1 /n

where n is the number of images to capture. Capture manager 410 then

requests a second image, which is tagged as 2/n. This is repeated until

n images have been captured. The difference in exposures is not passed

from capture manager 410 to camera control sub-system 418, but rather

29 returned as tag information with the associated salient still image file

within salient still capture image folder 1300.

Next, in step 1512, capture manager 410 preferably appends

salient still capture image tags 1302 to dark image file 1304 and bright image file 1306 as described in reference to FIG. 7. Alternatively,

capture manager 410 appends a plurality of salient still capture image

tags 1302 to a plurality of image files. Finally, in step 1513, capture

manager 410 groups the images together in salient still capture image

folder 1300 and adds optional salient still capture name 1308 to image

folder 1300.

The invention has been explained above with reference to a

preferred embodiment. Other embodiments will be apparent to those

skilled in the art in light of this disclosure. For example, the present

invention may be readily implemented using configurations other than

those described in the preferred embodiment above. Additionally, the

present invention may effectively be used in conjunction with systems

other than the one described above as the preferred embodiment.

Therefore, these and other variations upon the preferred embodiments

are intended to be covered by the present invention, which is limited only

by the appended claims.

30

Claims

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1. A system for capturing salient still images in an electronic imaging
device, said system comprising:
a camera control sub-system within said electronic imaging device
for detecting a high contrast scene by said electronic imaging
device;
a control application within said electronic imaging device for
notifying a user of the presence of said high contrast scene by
said electronic imaging device; and
an imaging capture device connected to said electronic imaging
device for capturing a plurality of salient still images;
whereby said capturing said plurality of salient still images
increases the dynamic range of said electronic imaging
device.
2. The system of claim 1 , further comprising:
an exposure control for capturing a bright image of bright areas of
an object at a first exposure level and for capturing a dark
image of dark areas of said object at a second exposure level.
31
3. The system of claim 2, further comprising:
an exposure mechanism within said electronic imaging device for
determining an average exposure level of said high contrast
scene.
4. The system of claim 3, wherein said exposure mechanism receives a high exposure value and receives a low exposure value.
5. The system of claim 2, wherein said exposure mechanism sets said
first exposure level of said bright image at said high exposure value
above said average exposure level, and said exposure mechanism sets said second exposure level of said dark image at said low exposure
value below said average exposure level.
6. The system of claim 2, wherein said first exposure level and said
second exposure level optimally overlap each other by a minimum
exposure value.
7. The system of claim 1 , wherein said camera control sub-system
combines said plurality of salient still images into a single image.
32
8. The system for capturing images of claim 1 , wherein:
said digital camera operates in three user-selectable modes:
firstly, where the camera automatically captures the salient still
images;
secondly, where the camera manually captures the salient still images; and
thirdly, where the salient image capture is inactive.
9. The system of claim 1, further comprising:
a salient still capture folder for storing said plurality of salient still
images;
salient still capture names attached to said salient still capture
image folder; and
salient still capture image tags attached to each of said plurality of
salient still images.
10. The system of claim 1 , wherein said exposure mechanism
calculates an average bright exposure value, said exposure mechanism
calculates an average dark exposure value, and said exposure
mechanism calculates an exposure difference from said average dark
exposure value to said average bright exposure value.
33
1. The system of claim 10, wherein said exposure mechanism
determines a necessary number of salient still images required to cover
said exposure difference, and said exposure mechanism captures said
necessary number of salient still images between said average dark
exposure value and said average bright exposure value.
34
12. A system for capturing salient still images in an electronic imaging
device, said system comprising:
means for detecting a high contrast image by said electronic
imaging device;
means for notifying a user of the presence of said high contrast
image by said electronic imaging device; and
means for capturing a plurality of salient still images;
whereby means for capturing said plurality of salient still
images increases the dynamic range of said electronic
imaging device.
13. The system of claim 12, further comprising:
means for capturing a bright image of bright areas of an object at a
first exposure level;
means for capturing a dark image of dark areas of said object at a
second exposure level.
35
14. The system of claim 13, further comprising
means for supplying a high exposure value to said electronic
imaging device;
means for supplying a low exposure value to said electronic
imaging device; means for determining an average exposure level of said high
contrast image;
means for setting said first exposure level of said bright image at
said high exposure value above said average exposure level; and
means for setting said second exposure level of said dark image at
said low exposure value below said average exposure level.
15. The system of claim 13, further comprising:
means for storing said bright image and said dark image in a
computer- readable storage medium.
16. The system of claim 12, further comprising:
means for combining said plurality of salient still images into a
single image; and
means for storing said single image in a computer-readable storage
medium.
36
17. The system of claim 12, further comprising:
means for storing said plurality of salient still images in a salient
still capture image folder; and
means for storing said salient still capture image folder in a
computer-readable storage medium.
18. The system of claim 12, further comprising:
means for appending a salient still capture name to said salient
still capture image folder; and
means for appending a plurality of salient still capture image tags
' to each of said plurality of salient still images.
19. The system of claim 12, further comprising:
means for calculating an average bright exposure value;
means for calculating an average dark exposure value; and
means for calculating an exposure difference from said average
dark exposure value to said average bright exposure value.
37
20. The system of claim 19, further comprising:
means for determining a necessary number of salient still images
required to cover said exposure difference; and
means for capturing said necessary number of salient still images
between said average dark exposure value and said average bright exposure value.
38
21. A method of capturing salient still images in an electronic imaging
device, said method comprising the steps of:
detecting a high contrast image by said electronic imaging device;
notifying a user of the presence of said high contrast image by said
electronic imaging device; and
capturing a plurality of salient still images;
whereby capturing said plurality of salient still images increases
the dynamic range of said electronic imaging device.
22. The method of claim 21 , further comprising the steps of:
capturing a bright image of bright areas of an object at a first
exposure level; and
capturing a dark image of dark areas of said object at a second
exposure level.
39
23. The method of claim 22, further comprising the steps of:
supplying a high exposure value to said electronic imaging device; supplying a low exposure value to said electronic imaging device;
determining an average exposure level of said high contrast image;
setting said first exposure level of said bright image at said high
exposure value above said average exposure level; and
setting said second exposure level of said dark image at said low exposure value below said average exposure level.
24. The method of claim 22, wherein said first exposure level and said
' second exposure level optimally overlap each other by a minimum
exposure value.
25. The method of claim 22, further comprising the step of:
storing said bright image and said dark image in a computer-
readable storage medium.
26. The method of claim 21 , further comprising the steps of:
combining said plurality of salient still images into a single image;
and
storing said single image in a computer-readable storage medium.
40
27. The method of claim 21 , further comprising the step of:
selecting a salient still capture mode on said electronic imaging
device;
wherein said mode of operation is selected from manual,
automatic, and inactive.
28. The method of claim 27, further comprising the steps of:
receiving a manual user event;
determining the value of said manual user event value;
manually capturing a single electronic image by said electronic
' imaging device; and
storing said single electronic image in a computer-readable storage
medium.
29. The method of claim 21, further comprising the steps of:
storing said plurality of salient still images in a salient still capture
image folder; and
storing said salient still capture image folder in a computer-
readable storage medium.
41
30. The method of claim 21 , further comprising the steps of:
appending a salient still capture name to said salient still capture
image folder; and
appending a plurality of salient still capture image tags to each of
said plurality of salient still images.
31. The method of claim 21 , further comprising the step of:
partitioning said high contrast image into a plurality of salient
image zones.
32. The method of claim 21 , further comprising the steps of:
calculating an average bright exposure value;
calculating an average dark exposure value; and
calculating an exposure difference from said average dark exposure
value to said average bright exposure value.
33. The method of claim 32, further comprising the steps of:
determining a necessary number of salient still images required to cover said exposure difference; and
capturing said necessary number of salient still images between
said average dark exposure value and said average bright
exposure value.
42
34. A computer-readable medium comprising program instructions for
the capture of salient still images in an electronic imaging device by
performing the steps of:
detecting a high contrast image by said electronic imaging device;
notifying a user of the presence of said high contrast image by said
electronic imaging device; and
capturing a plurality of salient still images;
whereby capturing said plurality of salient still images increases
the dynamic range of said electronic imaging device.
35. The method of claim 34, further comprising the steps of:
capturing a bright image of bright areas of an object at a first
exposure level; and
capturing a dark image of dark areas of said object at a second
exposure level.
43
36. The method of claim 35, further comprising the steps of:
supplying a high exposure value to said electronic imaging device;
supplying a low exposure value to said electronic imaging device;
determining an average exposure level of said high contrast image;
setting said first exposure level of said bright image at said high
exposure value above said average exposure level; and
setting said second exposure level of said dark image at said low
exposure value below said average exposure level.
37. The method of claim 35, wherein said first exposure level and said
second exposure level optimally overlap each other by a minimum
exposure value.
38. The method of claim 35, further comprising the step of:
storing said bright image and said dark image in a computer-
readable storage medium.
39. The method of claim 34, further comprising the steps of:
combining said plurality of salient still images into a single image;
and
storing said single image in a computer-readable storage medium.
44
40. The method of claim 34, further comprising the steps of:
storing said plurality of salient still images in a salient still capture
image folder; and storing said salient still capture image folder in a computer-
readable storage medium.
41. The method of claim 34, further comprising the steps of:
appending a salient still capture name to said salient still capture
image folder; and
appending a plurality of salient still capture image tags to each of
said plurality of salient still images.
42. The method of claim 34, further comprising the steps of:
calculating an average bright exposure value;
calculating an average dark exposure value; and
calculating an exposure difference from said average dark exposure
value to said average bright exposure value.
45
43. The method of claim 42, further comprising the steps of:
determining a number n of salient still images required to cover
said exposure difference; and
capturing said number n of salient still images between said
average dark exposure value and said average bright exposure value.
46
PCT/US1999/005370 1998-03-11 1999-03-11 System and method for the automatic capture of salient still images WO1999046637A1 (en)

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