I have a single class which converts an image's colors into greyscale (except one given color, which will be left as it was before):

class OneColorFocus {

    private let redMultiplier = 0.2126
    private let greenMultiplier = 0.7152
    private let blueMultiplier = 0.0722
    private let cLinearThreshold = 0.0031308

    private let focusColorRed: Int
    private let focusColorGreen: Int
    private let focusColorBlue: Int
    private let focusColorThreshold = 70

    private let originalImage: UIImage

    init(image: UIImage, focusColorRed: Int, focusColorGreen: Int, focusColorBlue: Int) {
        self.originalImage = image
        self.focusColorRed = focusColorRed
        self.focusColorGreen = focusColorGreen
        self.focusColorBlue = focusColorBlue

    func createOneColorFocusImage() -> UIImage? {
        return iterateThroughPixels()

    private func iterateThroughPixels() -> UIImage? {
        let dataProvider = CGDataProviderCopyData(CGImageGetDataProvider(originalImage.CGImage))
        let data = CFDataGetBytePtr(dataProvider)

        let imageDataLength = CFDataGetLength(dataProvider)
        assert(imageDataLength % 4 == 0, "image data doesn't contains proper number of color information")

        let newImagePointer = createGreyScaleDataWithData(data, withImageLenght: imageDataLength)

        let context = CGBitmapContextCreate(newImagePointer, CGImageGetWidth(originalImage.CGImage), CGImageGetHeight(originalImage.CGImage), 8, CGImageGetWidth(originalImage.CGImage) * 4, CGColorSpaceCreateDeviceRGB(), CGImageAlphaInfo.PremultipliedLast.rawValue)
        var resultImage: UIImage? = nil

        if let cgImage = CGBitmapContextCreateImage(context) {
            resultImage = UIImage(CGImage: cgImage)

        return resultImage

    private func createGreyScaleDataWithData(data: UnsafePointer<UInt8>, withImageLenght imageDataLength: CFIndex) -> UnsafeMutablePointer<UInt8> {

        let newImagePointer = UnsafeMutablePointer<UInt8>.alloc(imageDataLength)

        for pixelColorInfoStartIndex in 0..<(imageDataLength / 4) {
            let currentPixelRedIndex = pixelColorInfoStartIndex * 4
            let currentPixelGreenIndex = currentPixelRedIndex + 1
            let currentPixelBlueIndex = currentPixelRedIndex + 2
            let currentPixelAlphaIndex = currentPixelRedIndex + 3

            let redComponent = data[currentPixelRedIndex]
            let greenComponent = data[currentPixelGreenIndex]
            let blueComponent = data[currentPixelBlueIndex]

            let pixelShouldBeInOriginalColor = abs(Int(redComponent) - focusColorRed) < focusColorThreshold && abs(Int(greenComponent) - focusColorGreen) < focusColorThreshold && abs(Int(blueComponent) - focusColorBlue) < focusColorThreshold

            if (pixelShouldBeInOriginalColor) {
                newImagePointer[currentPixelRedIndex] = redComponent
                newImagePointer[currentPixelGreenIndex] = greenComponent
                newImagePointer[currentPixelBlueIndex] = blueComponent
                newImagePointer[currentPixelAlphaIndex] = data[currentPixelAlphaIndex]
            } else {
                let greyScale = greyScaleFromRed(redComponent, green: greenComponent, blue: blueComponent)
                newImagePointer[currentPixelRedIndex] = greyScale
                newImagePointer[currentPixelGreenIndex] = greyScale
                newImagePointer[currentPixelBlueIndex] = greyScale
                newImagePointer[currentPixelAlphaIndex] = 255
        return newImagePointer

    private func greyScaleFromRed(red: UInt8, green: UInt8, blue: UInt8) -> UInt8 {
        let Y = Double(red) * redMultiplier / 255 + Double(green) * greenMultiplier / 255 + Double(blue) * blueMultiplier / 255
        let Ysrgb: Double

        if Y <= cLinearThreshold {
            Ysrgb = Y * 12.92
        } else {
            Ysrgb = 1.055 * pow(Y, 1.0/2.4) - 0.055
        return UInt8(Ysrgb * 255)


enter image description here

It converts this 415 × 758 image in 0.32 seconds, which is quite high in my opinion.

Here are the results of the time profiler:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

So the results show that the most time is consumed in createGreyScaleDataWithData.

Given this code, what could be possible optimized here? My thoughts of improvements are that I could create e.g. 4 slices of the image and use this algorithm in 4 threads, but other than that, I'm not sure what to do.


One very small improvement I made was

private let redMultiplier = 0.2126 / 255.0
private let greenMultiplier = 0.7152 / 255.0
private let blueMultiplier = 0.0722 / 255.0

private let power = 1.0/2.4

including the multiplication in the constants, which previously was probably calculated at runtime in the greyScaleFromRed method, which now looks like:

private func greyScaleFromRed(red: UInt8, green: UInt8, blue: UInt8) -> UInt8 {
    let Y = Double(red) * redMultiplier + Double(green) * greenMultiplier + Double(blue) * blueMultiplier
    let Ysrgb: Double

    if Y <= cLinearThreshold {
        Ysrgb = Y * 12.92
    } else {
        Ysrgb = 1.055 * pow(Y, power) - 0.055
    return UInt8(Ysrgb * 255)

With that, the avarage time is a little bit less, 0.29.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to CR! That's pretty interesting code, I hope you get good reviews! (knowing our swift experts, I'm not worried) - looks great! I can't help but imagine how it would look with the red channel preserved instead of green ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2015 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mat'sMug thanks :) actually I tried the red channel first, but after testing and testing, I ended up using the green color, and uploaded that :( :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2015 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you run this through Instruments to see what's taking up most of the time? \$\endgroup\$
    – nhgrif
    Sep 21, 2015 at 23:42
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @nhgrif yes I did, I updated it with it's results. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 22, 2015 at 7:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you really want good performance you should incooperate Accelerate if possible (Check out Surge for a Swift-y interface). If you want even better performance, you can use Metal, OpenCL or write your own image filter kernel with CoreImage Kernel. These all use the GPU instead of the CPU. I'd go for Metal or Accelerate, very nice to use in comparison to OpenCL and CI Kernels. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kametrixom
    Sep 29, 2015 at 20:18

1 Answer 1


AFAIK there's not much you can do to further improve performances CPU side, but as suggested in the comments this seems like a typical application where GPU processing could give you significant performace improvement. However doing image processing with OpenGL or Metal is in general not an easy task, specially if you're completely new to it.

Fortunately starting from iOS8 things got a little bit easier since we can leverage the power of GPU to create custom filters, in a fairly straight forward fashion, using the Core Image framework. Anecdotally the documentation that states that custom filters do not work on iOS does not reflect iOS 8 release notes which tell us the opposite.

To get you started take a moment to get through Apple's Core Image custom filter paragraph, but oversimplifying you can think of these custom filters as custom calculations that are performed on every single pixel of the image at the same time.

Each Core Image Filter consists of 2 files:

  • Filter implementation: a CIFilter subclass
  • Kernel: the aformentioned calculation, written in a variant of the OpenGL Shading Language (docs, wiki) which is a language based on C used to program the pipeline of the GPU.

In our case:


class OneColorFocusCoreImageFilter: CIFilter {
    private static var kernel: CIColorKernel?
    private static var context: CIContext?

    private var _inputImage: CIImage?
    private var inputImage: CIImage? {
        get { return _inputImage }
        set { _inputImage = newValue }
    private var focusColor: CIColor?

    init(image: UIImage, focusColorRed: Int, focusColorGreen: Int, focusColorBlue: Int) {

        inputImage = CIImage(image: image)
        focusColor = CIColor(red: CGFloat(focusColorRed) / 255.0, green: CGFloat(focusColorGreen) / 255.0, blue: CGFloat(focusColorBlue) / 255.0)

    required init?(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) {
        super.init(coder: aDecoder)


    override var outputImage : CIImage! {
        if  let inputImage = inputImage,
            let kernel = OneColorFocusCoreImageFilter.kernel,
            let fc = focusColor {
                return kernel.applyWithExtent(inputImage.extent, roiCallback: { (_, _) -> CGRect in return inputImage.extent  }, arguments: [inputImage, fc]) // to support iOS8
                // return kernel.applyWithExtent(inputImage.extent, arguments: [inputImage, fc]) // iOS9 and newer
        return nil

    func outputUIImage() -> UIImage {
        let ciimage = self.outputImage

        return UIImage(CGImage: OneColorFocusCoreImageFilter.context!.createCGImage(ciimage, fromRect: ciimage.extent))

    private class func createKernel() -> CIColorKernel {
        let kernelString = try! String(contentsOfFile: NSBundle.mainBundle().pathForResource("OneColorFocusCoreImageFilter", ofType: "cikernel")!, encoding: NSUTF8StringEncoding)

        return CIColorKernel(string: kernelString)!

    class func preload() {
        // preloading kernel speeds up first execution of filter
        if kernel != nil {
        kernel = createKernel()
        context = CIContext(options: [kCIContextWorkingColorSpace: NSNull()])


kernel vec4 OneColorFocusCoreImageFilter(sampler source, __color focusColor)
    vec4 pixel = sample(source, samplerCoord(source));

    const float cLinearThreshold = 0.0031308;
    const float powE = 1.0 / 2.4;
    const float focusColorThreshold = 70.0 / 255.0;

    vec4 diff = abs(pixel - focusColor);
    bool pixelShouldBeInOriginalColor = (diff.r < focusColorThreshold && diff.g < focusColorThreshold && diff.b < focusColorThreshold);

    float Y = dot(pixel.rgb, vec3(0.2126, 0.7152, 0.0722));

        if (Y <= cLinearThreshold) {
            Y *= 12.92;
        } else {
            Y = 1.055 * pow(Y, powE) - 0.055;

        Can be rewritten as follows to avoid branches
    bool belowThreshold = (Y <= cLinearThreshold);
    Y = Y * 12.92 * float(belowThreshold) + (1.055 * pow(Y, powE) - 0.055) * float(!belowThreshold);

    return pixel.rgba * float(pixelShouldBeInOriginalColor) + vec4(vec3(Y), 1.0) * float(!pixelShouldBeInOriginalColor);

Kernel optimization

I'm by no means an expert in GLSL but it is known that branches (if, loops, etc) have severe impacts on the kernel performaces. Therefore I included in the comment an example of how you can rewrite the branch.

Core Image filter benchmarks

On my iPhone 5S on a 1537 × 667 pixels image I'm getting approximately a 5x speedup

  • CPU ~ 120ms
  • GPU ~ 25ms

On a 375 × 500 pixels image we have a 3x speedup

  • CPU ~ 40ms
  • GPU ~ 15ms


Profiling the GPU version of the filter shows that the filter by itself is very fast to be executed, while the true bottleneck is caused by the conversion to UIImage -> CIImage -> UIImage (we have a memory bandwidth constraint). This is most probably caused because we have to copy the Image buffer to a GPU texture an vice versa.

The numbers do also tell us that the Swift compiler is doing a great job optimizing the CPU version of the filter which has overall pretty decent performances (did you turn on the compilation optimization level?)

Further notes

Depending on your application there might be situations where you could get even better performances using the Core Image version of the filter. For example if you're getting samples from your device's camera there are some specifically methods to convert to CIImage (where the copy to GPU is optimized) like for example CIImage(CVImageBuffer:).

Sample code

You can find a working sample project https://github.com/tcamin/CustomCoreImageFilteringDemo


Improved CPU version

When first answering the question I actually omitted to tell that you might get improved performances leveraging arm's SIMD instructions set (see NEON technology, ARM's blog, intrinsic functions) which allow to execute instruction on multiple data at once.

The code is pretty low level and a lot less readable than the GPU version, however it's good to know that there is also this option available. I would strongly suggest to stick with the GPU version which is far more flexible, but I was really curios to checkout how fast this implementation would result.

void process_pixels_neon_with_lut(uint8_t *src, unsigned long numPixels, uint8_t focus_r, uint8_t focus_g, uint8_t focus_b, uint8_t *gamma_lut)
    float32x4_t y32_factor_r = vdupq_n_f32(0.2126f);
    float32x4_t y32_factor_g = vdupq_n_f32(0.7152f);
    float32x4_t y32_factor_b = vdupq_n_f32(0.0722f);

    uint8x8_t focus8_r = vdup_n_u8(focus_r);
    uint8x8_t focus8_g = vdup_n_u8(focus_g);
    uint8x8_t focus8_b = vdup_n_u8(focus_b);

    uint8x8_t fthrsh8 = vdup_n_u8(kFocusThreshold);

    unsigned long n = numPixels / 8 + 1;

    // Convert per eight pixels
    while (n-- > 0)
        uint8x8x4_t pix  = vld4_u8(src);

        uint8x8_t p8_r = pix.val[0];
        uint8x8_t p8_g = pix.val[1];
        uint8x8_t p8_b = pix.val[2];

        // check if color should be in original color
        uint8x8_t delta8_r = vabd_u8(p8_r, focus8_r);
        uint8x8_t delta8_g = vabd_u8(p8_g, focus8_g);
        uint8x8_t delta8_b = vabd_u8(p8_b, focus8_b);

        uint8x8_t delta8_lt_ft_r = vclt_u8(delta8_r, fthrsh8);
        uint8x8_t delta8_lt_ft_g = vclt_u8(delta8_g, fthrsh8);
        uint8x8_t delta8_lt_ft_b = vclt_u8(delta8_b, fthrsh8);

        uint8x8_t keep_color8 = vand_u8(delta8_lt_ft_r, vand_u8(delta8_lt_ft_g, delta8_lt_ft_b));
        uint8x8_t discard_color8 = vmvn_u8(keep_color8);

        // split and convert uint8x8 -> 2x float32x4_t
        float32x4_t p32_low_r, p32_low_g, p32_low_b;
        float32x4_t p32_high_r, p32_high_g, p32_high_b;

        uint8x8_to_float32x4_t(p8_r, &p32_low_r, &p32_high_r);
        uint8x8_to_float32x4_t(p8_g, &p32_low_g, &p32_high_g);
        uint8x8_to_float32x4_t(p8_b, &p32_low_b, &p32_high_b);

        // calculate Y
        float32x4_t temp_y32_low_r = vmulq_f32(p32_low_r, y32_factor_r);
        float32x4_t temp_y32_low_g = vmulq_f32(p32_low_g, y32_factor_g);
        float32x4_t temp_y32_low_b = vmulq_f32(p32_low_b, y32_factor_b);

        float32x4_t y32_low = vaddq_f32(temp_y32_low_r, vaddq_f32(temp_y32_low_g, temp_y32_low_b));

        float32x4_t temp_y32_high_r = vmulq_f32(p32_high_r, y32_factor_r);
        float32x4_t temp_y32_high_g = vmulq_f32(p32_high_g, y32_factor_g);
        float32x4_t temp_y32_high_b = vmulq_f32(p32_high_b, y32_factor_b);

        float32x4_t y32_high = vaddq_f32(temp_y32_high_r, vaddq_f32(temp_y32_high_g, temp_y32_high_b));

        // gamma correction using lut.
        for (int j = 0; j < 4; j++)
            y32_low[j] = gamma_lut[(int)(y32_low[j] * kGammaLUTSize / 255.0)];
            y32_high[j] = gamma_lut[(int)(y32_high[j] * kGammaLUTSize / 255.0)];

        // convert back to int and merge
        uint8x8_t y8;
        floats32x4_to_uint8x8(y32_low, y32_high, &y8);

        // merge grayscale + original rgba
        uint8x8_t pix_grayscale = vand_u8(y8, discard_color8);

        pix.val[0] = vadd_u8(vand_u8(p8_r, keep_color8), pix_grayscale);
        pix.val[1] = vadd_u8(vand_u8(p8_g, keep_color8), pix_grayscale);
        pix.val[2] = vadd_u8(vand_u8(p8_b, keep_color8), pix_grayscale);

        vst4_u8(src, pix);

        src += 8 * 4;

For the gamma correction I chose for simplicity (and probably speed) to use a preloaded LUT. Check the git repository for the full code.

NEON filter benchmarks

On my iPhone 5S on a 1537 × 667 pixels image I'm getting approximately a 3x speedup

  • CPU ~ 120ms
  • NEON ~ 40ms

On a 375 × 500 pixels image we have a 4x speedup

  • CPU ~ 40ms
  • NEON ~ 10ms

On small images the NEON version outperforms the GPU implementation since there's no setup overhead.


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