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Digital imaging or digital image acquisition is the creation of a digital representation of the visual characteristics of an object,[1] such as a physical scene or the interior structure of an object. The term is often assumed to imply or include the processing, compression, storage, printing and display of such images. A key advantage of a digital image, versus an analog image such as a film photograph, is the ability to digitally propagate copies of the original subject indefinitely without any loss of image quality.

Digital imaging can be classified by the type of electromagnetic radiation or other waves whose variable attenuation, as they pass through or reflect off objects, conveys the information that constitutes the image. In all classes of digital imaging, the information is converted by image sensors into digital signals that are processed by a computer and made output as a visible-light image. For example, the medium of visible light allows digital photography (including digital videography) with various kinds of digital cameras (including digital video cameras). X-rays allow digital X-ray imaging (digital radiography, fluoroscopy, and CT), and gamma rays allow digital gamma ray imaging (digital scintigraphy, SPECT, and PET). Sound allows ultrasonography (such as medical ultrasonography) and sonar, and radio waves allow radar. Digital imaging lends itself well to image analysis by software, as well as to image editing (including image manipulation).


Before digital imaging, the first photograph ever produced, View from the Window at Le Gras, was in 1826 by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. When Joseph was 28, he was discussing with his brother Claude about the possibility of reproducing images with light. His focus on his new innovations began in 1816. He was in fact more interested in creating an engine for a boat. Joseph and his brother focused on that for quite some time and Claude successfully promoted his innovation moving and advancing him to England. Joseph was able to focus on the photograph and finally in 1826, he was able to produce his first photograph of a view through his window. This took 8 hours or more of exposure to light.[2]

The first digital image was produced in 1920, by the Bartlane cable picture transmission system. British inventors, Harry G. Bartholomew and Maynard D. McFarlane, developed this method. The process consisted of "a series of negatives on zinc plates that were exposed for varying lengths of time, thus producing varying densities,".[3] The Bartlane cable picture transmission system generated at both its transmitter and its receiver end a punched data card or tape that was recreated as an image.[4]

In 1957, Russell A. Kirsch produced a device that generated digital data that could be stored in a computer; this used a drum scanner and photomultiplier tube.[3]

Digital imaging was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, largely to avoid the operational weaknesses of film cameras, for scientific and military missions including the KH-11 program. As digital technology became cheaper in later decades, it replaced the old film methods for many purposes.

In the early 1960s, while developing compact, lightweight, portable equipment for the onboard nondestructive testing of naval aircraft, Frederick G. Weighart[5] and James F. McNulty (U.S. radio engineer)[6] at Automation Industries, Inc., then, in El Segundo, California co-invented the first apparatus to generate a digital image in real-time, which image was a fluoroscopic digital radiograph. Square wave signals were detected on the fluorescent screen of a fluoroscope to create the image.

Digital image sensors

Main article: Image sensor

The charge-coupled device was invented by Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith at Bell Labs in 1969.[7] While researching MOS technology, they realized that an electric charge was the analogy of the magnetic bubble and that it could be stored on a tiny MOS capacitor. As it was fairly straightforward to fabricate a series of MOS capacitors in a row, they connected a suitable voltage to them so that the charge could be stepped along from one to the next.[8] The CCD is a semiconductor circuit that was later used in the first digital video cameras for television broadcasting.[9]

Early CCD sensors suffered from shutter lag. This was largely resolved with the invention of the pinned photodiode (PPD).[10] It was invented by Nobukazu Teranishi, Hiromitsu Shiraki and Yasuo Ishihara at NEC in 1980.[10][11] It was a photodetector structure with low lag, low noise, high quantum efficiency and low dark current.[10] In 1987, the PPD began to be incorporated into most CCD devices, becoming a fixture in consumer electronic video cameras and then digital still cameras. Since then, the PPD has been used in nearly all CCD sensors and then CMOS sensors.[10]

The NMOS active-pixel sensor (APS) was invented by Olympus in Japan during the mid-1980s. This was enabled by advances in MOS semiconductor device fabrication, with MOSFET scaling reaching smaller micron and then sub-micron levels.[12][13] The NMOS APS was fabricated by Tsutomu Nakamura's team at Olympus in 1985.[14] The CMOS active-pixel sensor (CMOS sensor) was later developed by Eric Fossum's team at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1993.[10] By 2007, sales of CMOS sensors had surpassed CCD sensors.[15]

Digital image compression

Main article: Image compression

An important development in digital image compression technology was the discrete cosine transform (DCT).[16] DCT compression is used in JPEG, which was introduced by the Joint Photographic Experts Group in 1992.[17] JPEG compresses images down to much smaller file sizes, and has become the most widely used image file format on the Internet.[18]

Digital cameras

Main article: Digital camera

These different scanning ideas were the basis of the first designs of digital camera. Early cameras took a long time to capture an image and were poorly suited for consumer purposes.[3] It was not until the adoption of the CCD (charge-coupled device) that the digital camera really took off. The CCD became part of the imaging systems used in telescopes, the first black-and-white digital cameras in the 1980s.[3] Color was eventually added to the CCD and is a usual feature of cameras today.

Changing environment

Great strides have been made in the field of digital imaging. Negatives and exposure are foreign concepts to many, and the first digital image in 1920 led eventually to cheaper equipment, increasingly powerful yet simple software, and the growth of the Internet.[19]

The constant advancement and production of physical equipment and hardware related to digital imaging has affected the environment surrounding the field. From cameras and webcams to printers and scanners, the hardware is becoming sleeker, thinner, faster, and cheaper. As the cost of equipment decreases, the market for new enthusiasts widens, allowing more consumers to experience the thrill of creating their own images.

Everyday personal laptops, family desktops, and company computers are able to handle photographic software. Our computers are more powerful machines with increasing capacities for running programs of any kind—especially digital imaging software. And that software is quickly becoming both smarter and simpler. Although functions on today's programs reach the level of precise editing and even rendering 3-D images, user interfaces are designed to be friendly to advanced users as well as first-time fans.

The Internet allows editing, viewing, and sharing digital photos and graphics. A quick browse around the web can easily turn up graphic artwork from budding artists, news photos from around the world, corporate images of new products and services, and much more. The Internet has clearly proven itself a catalyst in fostering the growth of digital imaging.

Online photo sharing of images changes the way we understand photography and photographers. Online sites such as Flickr, Shutterfly, and Instagram give billions the capability to share their photography, whether they are amateurs or professionals. Photography has gone from being a luxury medium of communication and sharing to more of a fleeting moment in time. Subjects have also changed. Pictures used to be primarily taken of people and family. Now, we take them of anything. We can document our day and share it with everyone with the touch of our fingers.[20]

In 1826 Niepce was the first to develop a photo which used lights to reproduce images, the advancement of photography has drastically increased over the years. Everyone is now a photographer in their own way, whereas during the early 1800s and 1900s the expense of lasting photos was highly valued and appreciated by consumers and producers. According to the magazine article on five ways digital camera changed us states the following:The impact on professional photographers has been dramatic. Once upon a time a photographer wouldn't dare waste a shot unless they were virtually certain it would work."The use of digital imaging( photography) has changed the way we interacted with our environment over the years. Part of the world is experienced differently through visual imagining of lasting memories, it has become a new form of communication with friends, family and love ones around the world without face to face interactions. Through photography it is easy to see those that you have never seen before and feel their presence without them being around, for example Instagram is a form of social media where anyone is allowed to shoot, edit, and share photos of whatever they want with friends and family. Facebook, snapshot, vine and twitter are also ways people express themselves with little or no words and are able to capture every moment that is important. Lasting memories that were hard to capture, is now easy because everyone is now able to take pictures and edit it on their phones or laptops. Photography has become a new way to communicate and it is rapidly increasing as time goes by, which has affected the world around us.[21]

A study done by Basey, Maines, Francis, and Melbourne found that drawings used in class have a significant negative effect on lower-order content for student's lab reports, perspectives of labs, excitement, and time efficiency of learning. Documentation style learning has no significant effects on students in these areas. He also found that students were more motivated and excited to learn when using digital imaging.[22]

Field advancements

In the field of education.

The field of medical imaging

In the field of technology, digital image processing has become more useful than analog image processing when considering the modern technological advancement.

Augmented reality

Digital Imaging for Augmented Reality (DIAR) is a comprehensive field within the broader context of Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. It involves the creation, manipulation, and interpretation of digital images for use in augmented reality environments. DIAR plays a significant role in enhancing the user experience, providing realistic overlays of digital information onto the real world, thereby bridging the gap between the physical and the virtual realms.[27][28]

DIAR is employed in numerous sectors including entertainment, education, healthcare, military, and retail. In entertainment, DIAR is used to create immersive gaming experiences and interactive movies. In education, it provides a more engaging learning environment, while in healthcare, it assists in complex surgical procedures. The military uses DIAR for training purposes and battlefield visualization. In retail, customers can virtually try on clothes or visualize furniture in their home before making a purchase.[29]

With continuous advancements in technology, the future of DIAR is expected to witness more realistic overlays, improved 3D object modeling, and seamless integration with the Internet of Things (IoT). The incorporation of haptic feedback in DIAR systems could further enhance the user experience by adding a sense of touch to the visual overlays. Additionally, advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to further improve the context-appropriateness and realism of the overlaid digital images.[30]

Theoretical application

Although theories are quickly becoming realities in today's technological society, the range of possibilities for digital imaging is wide open. One major application that is still in the works is that of child safety and protection. How can we use digital imaging to better protect our kids? Kodak's program, Kids Identification Digital Software (KIDS) may answer that question. The beginnings include a digital imaging kit to be used to compile student identification photos, which would be useful during medical emergencies and crimes. More powerful and advanced versions of applications such as these are still developing, with increased features constantly being tested and added.[31]

But parents and schools aren't the only ones who see benefits in databases such as these. Criminal investigation offices, such as police precincts, state crime labs, and even federal bureaus have realized the importance of digital imaging in analyzing fingerprints and evidence, making arrests, and maintaining safe communities. As the field of digital imaging evolves, so does our ability to protect the public.[32]

Digital imaging can be closely related to the social presence theory especially when referring to the social media aspect of images captured by our phones. There are many different definitions of the social presence theory but two that clearly define what it is would be "the degree to which people are perceived as real" (Gunawardena, 1995), and "the ability to project themselves socially and emotionally as real people" (Garrison, 2000). Digital imaging allows one to manifest their social life through images in order to give the sense of their presence to the virtual world. The presence of those images acts as an extension of oneself to others, giving a digital representation of what it is they are doing and who they are with. Digital imaging in the sense of cameras on phones helps facilitate this effect of presence with friends on social media. Alexander (2012) states, "presence and representation is deeply engraved into our reflections on images...this is, of course, an altered presence...nobody confuses an image with the representation reality. But we allow ourselves to be taken in by that representation, and only that 'representation' is able to show the liveliness of the absentee in a believable way." Therefore, digital imaging allows ourselves to be represented in a way so as to reflect our social presence.[33]

Photography is a medium used to capture specific moments visually. Through photography our culture has been given the chance to send information (such as appearance) with little or no distortion. The Media Richness Theory provides a framework for describing a medium's ability to communicate information without loss or distortion. This theory has provided the chance to understand human behavior in communication technologies. The article written by Daft and Lengel (1984,1986) states the following:

Communication media fall along a continuum of richness. The richness of a medium comprises four aspects: the availability of instant feedback, which allows questions to be asked and answered; the use of multiple cues, such as physical presence, vocal inflection, body gestures, words, numbers and graphic symbols; the use of natural language, which can be used to convey an understanding of a broad set of concepts and ideas; and the personal focus of the medium (pp. 83).

The more a medium is able to communicate the accurate appearance, social cues and other such characteristics the more rich it becomes. Photography has become a natural part of how we communicate. For example, most phones have the ability to send pictures in text messages. Apps Snapchat and Vine have become increasingly popular for communicating. Sites like Instagram and Facebook have also allowed users to reach a deeper level of richness because of their ability to reproduce information. Sheer, V. C. (January–March 2011). Teenagers' use of MSN features, discussion topics, and online friendship development: the impact of media richness and communication control. Communication Quarterly, 59(1).


A digital photograph may be created directly from a physical scene by a camera or similar device. Alternatively, a digital image may be obtained from another image in an analog medium, such as photographs, photographic film, or printed paper, by an image scanner or similar device. Many technical images—such as those acquired with tomographic equipment, side-scan sonar, or radio telescopes—are actually obtained by complex processing of non-image data. Weather radar maps as seen on television news are a commonplace example. The digitalization of analog real-world data is known as digitizing, and involves sampling (discretization) and quantization. Projectional imaging of digital radiography can be done by X-ray detectors that directly convert the image to digital format. Alternatively, phosphor plate radiography is where the image is first taken on a photostimulable phosphor (PSP) plate which is subsequently scanned by a mechanism called photostimulated luminescence.

Finally, a digital image can also be computed from a geometric model or mathematical formula. In this case, the name image synthesis is more appropriate, and it is more often known as rendering.

Digital image authentication is an issue[34] for the providers and producers of digital images such as health care organizations, law enforcement agencies, and insurance companies. There are methods emerging in forensic photography to analyze a digital image and determine if it has been altered.

Previously digital imaging depended on chemical and mechanical processes, now all these processes have converted to electronic. A few things need to take place for digital imaging to occur, the light energy converts to electrical energy – think of a grid with millions of little solar cells. Each condition generates a specific electrical charge. Charges for each of these "solar cells" are transported and communicated to the firmware to be interpreted. The firmware is what understands and translates the color and other light qualities. Pixels are what is noticed next, with varying intensities they create and cause different colors, creating a picture or image. Finally, the firmware records the information for a future date and for reproduction.


There are several benefits of digital imaging. First, the process enables easy access of photographs and word documents. Google is at the forefront of this 'revolution,' with its mission to digitize the world's books. Such digitization will make the books searchable, thus making participating libraries, such as Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley, accessible worldwide.[35] Digital imaging also benefits the medical world because it "allows the electronic transmission of images to third-party providers, referring dentists, consultants, and insurance carriers via a modem".[35] The process "is also environmentally friendly since it does not require chemical processing".[35] Digital imaging is also frequently used to help document and record historical, scientific and personal life events.[36]

Benefits also exist regarding photographs. Digital imaging will reduce the need for physical contact with original images.[37] Furthermore, digital imaging creates the possibility of reconstructing the visual contents of partially damaged photographs, thus eliminating the potential that the original would be modified or destroyed.[37] In addition, photographers will be "freed from being 'chained' to the darkroom," will have more time to shoot and will be able to cover assignments more effectively.[38] Digital imaging 'means' that "photographers no longer have to rush their film to the office, so they can stay on location longer while still meeting deadlines".[39]

Another advantage to digital photography is that it has been expanded to camera phones. We are able to take cameras with us wherever as well as send photos instantly to others. It is easy for people to us as well as help in the process of self-identification for the younger generation[40]


Critics of digital imaging cite several negative consequences. An increased "flexibility in getting better quality images to the readers" will tempt editors, photographers and journalists to manipulate photographs.[38] In addition, "staff photographers will no longer be photojournalists, but camera operators... as editors have the power to decide what they want 'shot'".[38]

See also


  1. ^ Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative Glossary
  2. ^ Brown, Barbara N. (November 2002). "GCI/HRC Research World's First Photograph". Abbey Newsletter. Vol. 26, no. 3. Archived from the original on 2019-08-03.
  3. ^ a b c d Trussell H &Vrhel M (2008). "Introduction". Fundamental of Digital Imaging: 1–6.
  4. ^ "The Birth of Digital Phototelegraphy", the papers of Technical Meeting in History of Electrical Engineering IEEE, Vol. HEE-03, No. 9-12, pp 7-12 (2003)
  5. ^ U.S. Patent 3,277,302, titled "X-Ray Apparatus Having Means for Supplying An Alternating Square Wave Voltage to the X-Ray Tube", granted to Weighart on October 4, 1964, showing its patent application date as May 10, 1963 and at lines 1-6 of its column 4, also, noting James F. McNulty's earlier filed co-pending application for an essential component of invention
  6. ^ U.S. Patent 3,289,000, titled "Means for Separately Controlling the Filament Current and Voltage on a X-Ray Tube", granted to McNulty on November 29, 1966 and showing its patent application date as March 5, 1963
  7. ^ James R. Janesick (2001). Scientific charge-coupled devices. SPIE Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0-8194-3698-6.
  8. ^ Williams, J. B. (2017). The Electronics Revolution: Inventing the Future. Springer. pp. 245–8. ISBN 978-3-319-49088-5.
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  11. ^ U.S. Patent 4,484,210: Solid-state imaging device having a reduced image lag
  12. ^ Fossum, Eric R. (12 July 1993). Blouke, Morley M. (ed.). "Active pixel sensors: are CCDs dinosaurs?". SPIE Proceedings Vol. 1900: Charge-Coupled Devices and Solid State Optical Sensors III. Charge-Coupled Devices and Solid State Optical Sensors III. International Society for Optics and Photonics. 1900: 2–14. Bibcode:1993SPIE.1900....2F. CiteSeerX doi:10.1117/12.148585. S2CID 10556755.
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  19. ^ Reed, Mike (2002). "Graphic arts, digital imaging and technology education". T H e Journal. 21 (5): 69+. Retrieved 28 June 2012.(subscription required)
  20. ^ Murray, Susan (August 2008). "Digital Images, Photo-Sharing, and Our Shifting Notions of Everyday Aesthetics". Journal of Visual Culture. 7 (2): 147–163. doi:10.1177/1470412908091935. S2CID 194064049.(subscription required)
  21. ^ Castella, T. D. (2012, 1, 12). Five ways the digital camera changed us. BBC.
  22. ^ "Impacts of Digital Imaging versus Drawing on Student Learning in Undergraduate Biodiversity Labs" (PDF). Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  23. ^ Richardson, Ronny (2003). "Digital imaging: The wave of the future". T H e Journal. 31 (3). Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  24. ^ Reed, Mike (2002). "Graphic arts, digital imaging and technology education". T H e Journal. 21 (5): 69+. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
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  34. ^ Digital image authentication for evidence
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  39. ^ Fahmy S, Smith CZ (2003). "Photographers Note Digital's Advantages, Disadvantages". Newspaper Research Journal. 24 (2): 82–96. doi:10.1177/073953290302400206. S2CID 107853874.
  40. ^ Gai, B. (2009). "A World Through the Camera Phone Lens: A Case Study of Beijing Camera Phone Use". Knowledge, Technology & Policy. 22 (3): 195–204. doi:10.1007/s12130-009-9084-x. S2CID 109060999.