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DQE, A Simplified View

A simple description of Detective Quantum Efficiency

Behnam Rashidian, B.Sc. (E.E.), MBA
Senior Product Manager, Teledyne DALSA
June 7, 2013

following figure explains how we may

define power supply efficiency:

etective Quantum Efficiency or

DQE is the metric of choice
when comparing the
performance of x-ray detectors in
medical radiology. Exact description of
DQE involves detailed mathematical
models which may be too complicated to
many who just need to get a pragmatic
understanding of this measure. The
following document explains this metric
in easily understandable and practical
terms without getting into the complex
calculations behind it.

Example: Non-ideal
power supply

Example: Ideal
power supply

Figure 1: Example of system efficiency

The non-ideal power supply uses more

input power to generate the same output
power, but the output power of an ideal
power supply is the same as its input:

DQE measures x-ray detector efficiency

of utilizing input x-ray quanta to
construct an output image. Why is such
efficiency important to us? Simply put,
x-ray exposure is harmful to patients and
must be minimized as we make the best
use of x-ray photons. Similar to any
efficiency figure, DQE compares the
efficiency of a real detector to that of an
ideal detector. To understand the DQE,
we start by understanding how the
efficiency is measured (E) and then
explain the role of x-ray quanta in image
quality (Q) and detection capability of a
detector (D).





Efficiency of the non-ideal power supply

can be simply defined as  / .
However when the output of a system
such as an x-ray detector (output image
quality) is not of the same nature as its
input (x-ray quanta), efficiency can be
defined in other ways. Another view
would be to compare the input of these
two systems when the outputs of the
systems are kept the same. For the above
system, since the output power is the
same we can similarly define efficiency


DQE and Efficiency

If we compare any non-ideal system

with an ideal one, we can define an
efficiency figure that is between zero
and 100%, which is the efficiency level
of an ideal system. For example, the

In other words to determine the

efficiency of a non-ideal system
sufficient input signal required by the
ideal system in order to get the same
output as the non-ideal system is
determined. Then the ratio of the ideal
system input to the non-ideal system
input can be used to define the

Non-ideal x-ray
25% more x-ray
exposure; 1.25Q

Ideal x-ray detector

Exposure: Q
Figure 2: Detector efficiency using x-ray quanta

Since the inputs use the same

measurement unit, the efficiency figure
could be more readily defined as a
dimensionless figure between zero and
100%. In a digital x-ray detector, the
input consists of x-ray photons and the
output is the feature resolving power or
ability to detect features of the image
through contrast, hence the name
detective quantum efficiency.

The question now becomes how to

define image quality and what the image
quality of an ideal detector is.
X-ray Quanta and Image Quality

It is important to note that even an ideal

x-ray detector will provide images with
limited and quantifiable quality, that is,
the feature resolving power of ideal
detector is limited. If we expose an ideal
x-ray detector to a constant x-ray
exposure, the distribution of x-ray
photons over the detector area and over a
time period is not a constant value and is
randomly distributed. This inherent
noise associated with received x-ray
quanta increases as the average number
of input x-ray photons increases. Not
only x-ray photons, but also visible
photons incident on a detector follow a
random Poisson process.

If the efficiency of a system is 80%, for

example, this means the system has
wasted 20% of its input. In terms of an
x-ray detector with 80% DQE, we can
say that 20% of the x-ray exposure was
wasted due to the detectors non-ideal
As we can see in figure 2, both the ideal
and the non-ideal detectors are providing
the same output image quality. However,
the non-ideal detector uses 25% more xray photons to achieve the same output
image quality. This is why a higher DQE
is almost always synonymous with lower
x-ray dosage.

For example, if on average each pixel of

a detector receives 100 x-ray incident
photons per exposure, the inherent noise
or standard deviation of the number of
incident photons per pixel is 100 =
10 photons. If the number of incident
photons increases to 10,000 photons per
pixel, the noise will be 10000 =
100 photons per pixel.
(The relationship between signal and
noise is based on the assumption that the

Example: If detector A has a DQE figure

of 50% and detector B under the same
conditions has a DQE of 40%, then
detector B needs 25% more x-ray
exposure than detector A to provide the
same image quality as detector A.

attenuating stages, still keeps the same

random distribution and noise
characteristics, i.e. the relationship
N = S still holds for the attenuated xray.

x-ray flux follows a Poisson random

The difference between an ideal and
non-ideal detector is that while the ideal
detector maintains the signal to noise
ratio of the input x-ray flux in the output
image, the non ideal detector negatively
impacts image quality by adding some
extra detector noise and by deteriorating
the input signal through distortion or
linear attenuation mechanisms.

First lets assume there are on average

10,000 x-ray photons per pixel of input
signal. The effect of the carbon fiber and
coupling glass attenuations is to reduce
the number of incident photons on the
ideal detector to an average of 2500
photons per pixel.

The output image quality defined by

signal to noise ratio of an ideal detector
is the same as its input image signal to
noise ratio, and as such, an ideal detector
preserves image quality. This is
analogous to the 100% efficiency of a
perfect power supply example where the
output power is the same as the input

10,000 xray quanta

per pixel

2500 X-ray
quanta per
pixel (NEQ)

It is also important to note that signal

and noise combination in an image are
functions of feature sizes in the image
and the intensity of the x-ray flux.
Therefore the image quality is often
measured as the signal to noise ratio at
different spatial resolutions. The
following simple example explains how
DQE of a non ideal detector could be

Carbon fiber plate

and coupling glass
on an ideal

Ideal x-ray

Figure 3: DQE degradation due to input signal attenuation

If we define the image quality as the

Since the ideal detector maintains input
signal to noise ratio, the signal to noise
ratio or S/N of the output image in the
above example is 2500 = 50.
Due to the glass and carbon fiber
attenuation, we need to use 10000
photons to achieve the same image
quality in our example detector, so the
DQE number for the non-ideal detector
= 25%

DQE Degradation through Broad

Input Signal Attenuation

A non-ideal detector consists of an ideal
detector and a carbon fiber face plate
with 50% attenuation factor and a
coupling fiber optic bundle of 50%
attenuation. What is the estimated DQE
of the detector?

The 2500 number of photons per pixel is

referred to as Noise Equivalent Quanta
(NEQ). The Noise Equivalent Quanta is
the number of photons per pixel (or unit
area) required by an ideal detector to

For simplicity we assume that the x-ray

quanta, which passes through these two

create the same image quality as that of

the non-ideal detector. As such, similar
to the way we defined in the above
example, we can define DQE as:





A detector may provide much better S/N

ratio when looking at large feature sizes,
compared to small feature sizes in the




S/N ratio of an output image is typically

presented as a function of both spatial
resolution and input x-ray flux intensity.
Therefore DQE is normally presented as
functions of spatial resolution at certain
x-ray flux intensity.

The input signal to noise ratio for the

non-ideal detector is:


Signal Attenuation as a Function of

Spatial Resolution




An important assumption in the previous

example is that the glass and carbon
fiber attenuation preserves the stochastic
nature of the input signal. As such the
signal is attenuated by a greater factor
than the noise. If the noise and the signal
were attenuated by the same factor (e.g.
changing detector sensitivity by
changing electronic gain of the detector),
the output image quality would remain
the same and any loss in gain could be
compensated for by a simple output
image scaling

It is a common practice to use the signal

to noise ratio of the detector output
image as the metric of choice for image
quality. As such, it is also desired to
express DQE in terms of the input and
output S/N ratios. In the above formula
we can rewrite NEQ and Q in terms of
output and input signal to noise ratios:

In the above example we assumed that

the detector does not introduce
additional noise and that the attenuated
signal is not distorted.


In which DQE is the detective quantum

efficiency, NEQ is the x-ray quanta
required by an ideal detector to provide
the same image quality as the non-ideal
detector, and Q is the x-ray quanta
required by the non-ideal detector.

()  =

An example is a digital detector where

an image is created by the output of
pixels representing the image in gray
values. The pixel size imposes a limit on
the minimum detectable feature size on
the image. Figure 4 illustrates how pixel
size limits the feature resolving power of
the detector. In the first instance, the


As such we can say:

detector looks at black and white line

pairs (lp) that span over four pixels (10
pixels are shown in the example)
example), so the
output image correctly represent
represents the
subject to a great extent.. In the second
instance, the same detector is used to
image smaller line pair spacing with four
times the spatial frequency. S
Since the
black and white stripes are combined in
each pixel, the output of the imager is a
flat grey image that carries no
information. In this situation the DQE of
the detector approaches zero as the
feature size is reduced to a certain
limiting size (determined by Nyquist

Example DQE Curve



Spatial Frequency (lp/mm)


Figure 5: Example DQE curve

A measure of relative signal attenuation

of a detector as a function of spatial
frequency can be represented by the
modulation transferr function or MTF of
a detector. Figure 6 shows MTF of an
example x-ray detector.

Figure 4: Detection limit due to pixel size

As such there is a minimum resolvable

feature size for each x-ray
ray detector and
the DQE of an x-ray
ray detector is typically
higher for larger feature sizes. Figure 5
shows an example of a DQE curve for a
CCD based x-ray detector. The
horizontal axis represents spatial
frequency in the units of line pairs per
millimeter (lp/mm).

Figure 6: Example MTF curve

The MTF value is between zero and one.

One can think of MTF as a normalized
output signal as a function of spatial
frequency. As can be seen in the chart,
chart it
is typical that the resolving power of
detectors decreases as the spatial
frequency increases. For example,
example in the
MTF chart at near zero lp/mm, the
average output signal of the detector is
10 times of that at 10 lp/mm.
We can simply model output of a linear
digital x-ray
ray detector by describing its
output signal (in terms of digital number
or DN, between 0 and 1023 in a 10 bit

image for example) as a function of

spatial frequency using the following
 (") =  $%&(")

In this example, the non-ideal detector

consists of an ideal detector and a
readout noise source with a noise value
equivalent to 50 quanta per pixel in the
input x-ray flux. What is the DQE of the


Here D is the average detector output

value of a flat image in DN and
 (") is the output signal level in DN
(digital number) as a function of spatial
frequency u (for simplicity we use one
dimensional spatial frequency). The
value of D can be changed for example
by changing the gain or sensitivity of the
The MTF of a detector can be calculated
by methods that are beyond the scope of
this paper. This may include taking the
average of several images of a stainless
steel straight edge and using Fourier
transformation to derive the MTF
function. The average output value, D,
can simply be calculated using the
average of several images at the x-ray
exposure of interest.

10,000 xray quanta

per pixel

Readout noise
equivalent to 50 xray photons per

Ideal x-ray Detector

8000 x-ray
quanta per
Figure 7: DQE degradation due to detector noise

The inherent noise of 10,000 x-ray

quanta per pixel is 100 quanta per pixel.
Assuming the electronic readout noise
and the x-ray flux noise are not
correlated, the total noise can be
calculated by adding noises in

DQE Degradation through Addition of

Detector Noise

 = 100! + 50! = 111.80

Another source of inefficiency in

practical x-ray detectors is the addition
of random noise through electronic
readout or other mechanisms as well as
fixed pattern noise of the detector or
scintillating material. The fixed pattern
noise however may be corrected for by
image manipulation techniques such as
flat field correction.

()  =

= 89.44

In the ideal detector, all we need to get

the same signal to noise ratio is an input
flux density of (89.44)2 or 8000 photons
per pixel of input signal. Therefore the
NEQ = 8000 and the non-ideal detector
DQE is 80%.

In contrast to the previous examples

where the DQE was deteriorated through
signal reduction, the following example
illustrates DQE deterioration through
additional random electronic noise
induced by the detector.

The above example shows that to

compensate for higher detector noise, we
need to use a higher number of x-ray
quanta per pixel, and that is achieved by
increasing the x-ray dosage.


DQE Measurement of a Digital


be expressed in terms of output DN or

input number of x-ray quanta per pixel.
As such, a system large area gain can be
defined as:

The methodology for measuring DQE in

a digital detector has been detailed in
IEC 62220-1 standard. Here we briefly
overview the basic steps in a general
DQE measurement as they pertain to the
scope of this paper in order to get a
better understanding of the elements that
constitute DQE and its equation.



Where G is the conversion factor or

system gain, D is the average output in
DN and Q is the average input quanta
per detector pixel (or unit of area).

Similar to the simplified way we

examined DQE in terms of absolute
number of input x-ray quanta of a flat
image, we can define DQE as a function
of spatial frequency. According to
equation (4), in order to calculate DQE
of a digital detector as a function of
spatial frequency, we need to know two
things; first the input x-ray quanta per
unit area or Q, and secondly the
equivalent NEQ as a functions of spatial
frequency. The input x-ray quanta can be
calculated by x-ray dosimeter
measurements and by knowing the
characteristics of the x-ray source
including x-ray beam energy.

Since each output image is always a

mixture of noise and actual image
contrast information, several images of
the same condition are taken and
averaged out in order to estimate the
output signal. For example, 16 or more
images of x-ray exposure of interest may
be taken and averaged. The output signal
 (") is calculated according to
equation (8) by measuring the MTF of
the detector and the value D. The MTF
function could be calculated using the
average of many images of a straight
edge target. The resulting normalized
intensity data (as a function of spatial
dimension), is called edge spread
function. Edge spread function is
subsequently differentiated to drive what
is called Line Spread Function or LSF
and MTF is then determined by using
Fourier transformation.

NEQ is calculated indirectly by

calculating output signal to noise ratio
using equation (5). Output S/N ratio is
calculated using a series of output
images. We first need to calculate the
numerator (S) by calculating the output
signal as a function of spatial frequency.

The denominator portion of equation (5)

represents spatial variance (noise is
equivalent to the standard deviation) of
the output image as a function of spatial
frequency. This is determined by
calculating the noise power spectrum or
NPS (u) from the output images.

A digital detector converts x-ray quanta

into digital numbers (DN) for each pixel.
The conversion rate in a linear detector
can be calculated by examining the
average input x-ray per pixel and the
average output digital number. This
helps to convert different figures
between the digital values and
equivalent input exposure values. For
example, the output signal or noise can

NPS of the output is calculated by taking

several flat images at the x-ray exposure
of interest and looking at the variation in

average signal intensity in the x and y

directions and presenting it as a function
of spatial frequency using Fourier
transformation. NPS signifies the power
density of noise as a function of spatial

efficiency figure is dependent on the size

of features of interest in the image as
well as the x-ray beam and exposure

After calculating the MTF and the NPS

functions from a series of input images,
the NEQ can be calculated using the
following equations:

I.A. Cunningham and R. Shaw,
Signal-to-noise optimization of medical
imaging systems, J Opt Soc Am A 16:621632, 1999

(") = 

 $%& (")


Recommended Reading

International Electrotechnical
Commission. Medical electrical equipment
characteristics of digital x-ray imaging
devices, Part 1: Determination of the
detective quantum efficiency. IEC 6220-1,



I. A. Cunningham and B. K. Reid:
Signal and noise in modulation transfer
function determinations using the slit, wire,
and edge techniques, Med Phys
19(4):1037-1044, 1992.

(") =

$%& ! (")
((")! )


Samei E, Flynn MJ, Reimann DA. A
method for measuring the presampled MTF
of digital radiographic systems using an
edge test device. Med Phys 1998; 25:102

where the denominator is referred to as

normalized NPS or NNPS function.
It should be noted that the functions in
the above equation must be expressed in
proper units for the sake of consistency.
Units of measurement can be based on
output digital numbers or input quanta
per pixel (or mm2) using the system

M. L. Giger and K. Doi, Investigation
of basic imaging properties of digital
radiography. Part 1: modulation transfer
function, Med Phys 11, 287-295 (1984).
M. L. Giger, K. Doi and C.E. Metz
Investigation of basic imaging properties of
digital radiography. Part 2: Noise Wiener
spectrum, Med Phys 11, 797-805 (1984).

DQE is then calculated using equation

(11) and equation (4):
! $%& ! (")
(") =

Zhao W, Rowlands JA: Digital
radiology using active matrix readout of
amorphous selenium: Construction and
evaluation of a prototype real-time
detector. Med Phys 24(12): 1834-1843,



J. H. Siewerdsen, L. E. Antonuk, Y.
El-Mohri, J. Yorkston, and W.
Huang,Signal, noise power spectrum, and
detective quantum efficiency of indirectdetection flat-panel imagers for diagnostic
radiology, Med. Phys. 25, 614628, 1998.

DQE or detective quantum efficiency is

a measure of x-ray detector efficiency in
utilizing x-ray quanta in resolving or
detecting image contrast information.
Image quality degradation can result
from attenuation of input signal and
addition of detector noise. This

Thorsten Graeve and Gene P.
Weckler, AN05 - High-resolution CMOS
imaging detector Teledyne DALSA,