Chapter 5. SIFT and feature matching

In this tutorial we’ll look at how to compare images to each other. Specifically, we’ll use a popular local feature descriptor called SIFT to extract some interesting points from images and describe them in a standard way. Once we have these local features and their descriptions, we can match local features to each other and therefore compare images to each other, or find a visual query image within a target image, as we will do in this tutorial.

Firstly, lets load up a couple of images. Here we have a magazine and a scene containing the magazine:

MBFImage query = ImageUtilities.readMBF(new URL(""));
MBFImage target = ImageUtilities.readMBF(new URL(""));

The first step is feature extraction. We’ll use the difference-of-Gaussian feature detector which we describe with a SIFT descriptor. The features we find are described in a way which makes them invariant to size changes, rotation and position. These are quite powerful features and are used in a variety of tasks. The standard implementation of SIFT in OpenIMAJ can be found in the DoGSIFTEngine class:

DoGSIFTEngine engine = new DoGSIFTEngine();	
LocalFeatureList<Keypoint> queryKeypoints = engine.findFeatures(query.flatten());
LocalFeatureList<Keypoint> targetKeypoints = engine.findFeatures(target.flatten());

Once the engine is constructed, we can use it to extract Keypoint objects from our images. The Keypoint class contain a public field called ivec which, in the case of a standard SIFT descriptor is a 128 dimensional description of a patch of pixels around a detected point. Various distance measures can be used to compare Keypoints to Keypoints.

The challenge in comparing Keypoints is trying to figure out which Keypoints match between Keypoints from some query image and those from some target. The most basic approach is to take a given Keypoint in the query and find the Keypoint that is closest in the target. A minor improvement on top of this is to disregard those points which match well with MANY other points in the target. Such point are considered non-descriptive. Matching can be achieved in OpenIMAJ using the BasicMatcher. Next we’ll construct and setup such a matcher:

LocalFeatureMatcher<Keypoint> matcher = new BasicMatcher<Keypoint>(80);

We can now draw the matches between these two images found with this basic matcher using the MatchingUtilities class:

MBFImage basicMatches = MatchingUtilities.drawMatches(query, target, matcher.getMatches(), RGBColour.RED);

As you can see, the basic matcher finds many matches, many of which are clearly incorrect. A more advanced approach is to filter the matches based on a given geometric model. One way of achieving this in OpenIMAJ is to use a ConsistentLocalFeatureMatcher which given an internal matcher and a model fitter configured to fit a geometric model, finds which matches given by the internal matcher are consistent with respect to the model and are therefore likely to be correct.

To demonstrate this, we’ll use an algorithm called Random Sample Consensus (RANSAC) to fit a geometric model called an Affine transform to the initial set of matches. This is achieved by iteratively selecting a random set of matches, learning a model from this random set and then testing the remaining matches against the learnt model.

[Tip] Tip
An Affine transform models the transformation between two parallelograms.

We’ll now set up a RANSAC model fitter configured to find Affine Transforms (using the RobustAffineTransformEstimator helper class) and our consistent matcher:

RobustAffineTransformEstimator modelFitter = new RobustAffineTransformEstimator(5.0, 1500,
  new RANSAC.PercentageInliersStoppingCondition(0.5));
matcher = new ConsistentLocalFeatureMatcher2d<Keypoint>(
  new FastBasicKeypointMatcher<Keypoint>(8), modelFitter);


MBFImage consistentMatches = MatchingUtilities.drawMatches(query, target, matcher.getMatches(), 


The AffineTransformModel class models a two-dimensional Affine transform in OpenIMAJ. The RobustAffineTransformEstimator class provides a method getModel() which returns the internal Affine Transform model whose parameters are optimised during the fitting process driven by the ConsistentLocalFeatureMatcher2d. An interesting byproduct of using the ConsistentLocalFeatureMatcher2d is that the AffineTransformModel returned by getModel() contains the best transform matrix to go from the query to the target. We can take advantage of this by transforming the bounding box of our query with the transform estimated in the AffineTransformModel, therefore we can draw a polygon around the estimated location of the query within the target:

  query.getBounds().transform(modelFitter.getModel().getTransform().inverse()), 3,RGBColour.BLUE);

5.1. Exercises

5.1.1. Exercise 1: Different matchers

Experiment with different matchers; try the BasicTwoWayMatcher for example.

5.1.2. Exercise 2: Different models

Experiment with different models (such as a HomographyModel) in the consistent matcher. The RobustHomographyEstimator helper class can be used to construct an object that fits the HomographyModel model. You can also experiment with an alternative robust fitting algorithm to RANSAC called Least Median of Squares (LMedS) through the RobustHomographyEstimator.

[Tip] Tip
A HomographyModel models a planar Homography between two planes. Planar Homographies are more general than Affine transforms and map quadrilaterals to quadrilaterals.