Wangki Yuen1, Yichao Gu1, Yalin Mao1, Sotiria Koloutsou-Vakakis1, Mark J. Rood 1, Hyun-Keun Son2, Kevin Mattison3, Bill Franek3, Ke Du4

  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL 61801, USA
  • 2 Department of Environment and Health, Kosin University, Busan, Korea
  • 3 Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, IL 62702, USA
  • 4 Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada

Received: August 24, 2016
Revised: November 30, 2016
Accepted: December 21, 2016
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Cite this article:
Yuen, W., Gu, Y., Mao, Y., Koloutsou-Vakakis, S., Rood, M.J., Son, H.K., Mattison, K., Franek, B. and Du, K. (2017). Performance and Uncertainty in Measuring Atmospheric Plume Opacity Using Compact and Smartphone Digital Still Cameras. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 17: 1281-1293.


  • Smartphone cameras are introduced and tested for opacity measurements.
  • Pixel values in grayscale and RGB are used respectively to calculate opacity.
  • Exposure value compensation provides an alternative way to calibrate cameras.
  • Contrast between background and plume affects opacity uncertainty.
  • Opacity measurement is wavelength dependent.



Quantification of visible ambient plume opacity measurements using compact and smartphone digital still cameras (DSCs), and Digital Optical Method (DOM) are evaluated here. A new camera calibration method that employs exposure value compensation in place of exposure time or radiance of a surface is described and evaluated. This new and simpler method allows an automatic exposure controlled DSC to be calibrated using its own DSC settings. We also test the use of color in place of grayscale pixel values (PVs) to measure opacity. Finally, we determine the uncertainty of the opacity measurements. Two compact DSCs and two smartphone DSCs are tested to measure plume opacity values of smoke generated with an outdoor smoke generator, in comparison to the plume opacity values measured with an in-stack transmissometer. Results show that: 1) smartphone DSCs, like compact DSCs, can pass opacity measurement requirements set by USEPA; 2) the new simpler calibration method generates values within 5% in opacity on average compared to opacity values from the reference transmissometer; 3) non-uniform background color dominates the uncertainty of opacity measurements, and such uncertainty is wavelength dependent; and 4) the diffusive scattering parameter, used in DOM’s transmission model, is lower for black plumes than white plumes, and is wavelength dependent. These results improve our understanding of using DSCs and the parameters that introduce uncertainty to DOM to improve measurements of plume opacity that can improve protection of human health.

Keywords: Pixel values; Digital Optical Method; Transmissometer; RGB; Exposure values

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