PRODUCTS: NITF Escalator

Stellar Science presents NITF Escalator, an Adobe Photoshop File Format Plug-in that allows you to read NITF 2.0, NITF 2.1 and NSIF 1.0 imagery files directly into Photoshop and other host image processing applications.

The National Imagery Transmission Format (NITF) is a standard for formatting digital imagery and imagery-related products and exchanging them among the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, and other U.S. government departments and agencies. NITF 2.1 is also known as the NATO Secondary Image Format (NSIF), which is a standard for NATO members. Additionally, many in the medical-imaging community have adopted the NITF format as well.

The NITF format is highly flexible and very complex, supporting various bit rates, compression schemes, blocking schemes, sub-images, and graphical overlays. The NITF specification includes an extensible framework for representing file-level and image-level electronic support data. This support data, which varies depending on the source and type of the imagery present in the file, contains information that can aid the exploitation process. Dozens of support data extensions have been officially registered for various types of imagery, and many more unregistered extensions exist.

While there does exist several proprietary software applications that can read and process a specific subset of NITF imagery files, NITF Escalator is unique in that it does not force you to learn and use a new image processing tool. Instead, NITF Escalator allows you to utilize industry standard tools like Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or any other application that supports the Adobe File Format Plug-in API. No cumbersome or destructive format conversions necessary!

The NITF Escalator plug-in has been extensively tested on hundreds of images, some of which were obtained from the NITFS Technical Board's suite of sample files.

Among other things, the current version of NITF Escalator supports:

  • NITF 2.0 imagery files
  • NITF 2.1 imagery files
  • NITF 1.0 imagery files
  • Large files -- including images that contain more than 2.5 billion pixels.
  • All four NITF uncompressed data layouts (IMODE = S, B, P or R).
  • Most NITF image data types, including 8-, 16- and 32-bit signed and unsigned integer types, single- and double-precision floating point types, and boolean data. Images with complex floating point pixels are not supported. If an intensity transform is required to get the data into a format that Photoshop natively understands, NITF Escalator will do it for you and allow you to tweak the process if necessary.
  • Multiple images per file. While Photoshop does not natively support files that contain more than one image, NITF Escalator compensates for this deficiency by allowing users to select which image they would like to view.
  • An arbitrary number of bands per image. Photoshop will only allow up to 56 channels per image. NITF Escalator will truncate off any excess channels so the image can still be read in and processed.
  • Full parsing of file header and all image headers. NITF Escalator parses these headers and, before opening the image files, displays this information to the user in a collapsible tree format. For advanced users, this header viewing tool is extremely valuable for helping to understand your NITF imagery.

These features make NITF Escalator a very valuable tool to almost anybody who works with NITF imagery.

There are some limitations however:

  • Images with lookup tables (LUT). NITF Escalator will read in images that contain LUTs but, because the NITF format allows many types of LUTs that aren't supported directly by Photoshop, the current version of NITF Escalator ignores LUT data. The pixel values that are seen will be indexes into the LUT. These types of NITF files are not common.
  • Writing NITF imagery. The current version of NITF Escalator cannot write NITF imagery.
  • Non-imagery headers. NITF Escalator is designed to read imagery segments from a NITF file and will skip any segment that is neither a file header nor an image segment. This includes graphic segments and text segments.
  • Other compression schemes. NITF Escalator only supports NITF imagery that is either uncompressed or JPEG2000 compressed. The majority of modern day NITF image files fall into one of these two categories but there are some other compression schemes as well (e.g., old JPEG, bi-level compression, vector quantization)

If NITF Escalator doesn't fully meet your NITF processing needs, please let us know what functionality is missing. We are committed to making this product as useful to our customers as possible.