What is Mean shift

Understanding Mean Shift: A Comprehensive Guide

Mean shift is a clustering technique used in machine learning and computer vision to group similar data points together. It is a non-parametric algorithm that does not require prior assumptions about the shape or size of the clusters. Mean shift has gained popularity in recent years due to its performance on high-dimensional data and the ability to work with a wide range of data types.

What is Mean Shift?

Mean shift is a procedure that involves finding the maxima of a density estimator known as the kernel density estimate (KDE). The procedure works by computing a centroid of a small region of the KDE and then shifting the centroid towards the higher density regions iteratively until convergence. In other words, the clustering algorithm tries to locate the modes or peaks of the density function, which correspond to the clusters in the data.

How Does Mean Shift Work?

The Mean Shift algorithm can be summarized in the following steps:

  • Step 1: Initialization - Randomly select a data point as the centroid of a cluster
  • Step 2: Compute the kernel density estimate (KDE) in the neighborhood of the centroid
  • Step 3: Shift the centroid towards the mode of the KDE
  • Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until convergence
  • Step 5: Repeat Steps 1 to 4 for all data points that have not been assigned to a cluster

The bandwidth parameter is crucial in determining the neighborhood size of the KDE. A larger bandwidth can lead to more smoothness, but may also result in merging of clusters. On the other hand, a smaller bandwidth can result in overfitting and formation of small, isolated clusters.

Advantages of Mean Shift
  • Mean shift can handle arbitrary shapes and sizes of clusters.
  • The algorithm does not require assumptions about the number of clusters or their dimensions, which makes it flexible and highly scalable.
  • Mean shift performs well on high-dimensional data that are difficult to cluster using other methods.
Disadvantages of Mean Shift
  • Mean shift is computationally expensive, especially on large datasets.
  • The algorithm requires a careful selection of the bandwidth parameter, which can be difficult in some cases.
  • Mean shift may struggle with data that has many low-density regions or noise, as it tends to converge to the nearest mode.
Applications of Mean Shift

Mean shift has been used in various applications, including:

  • Image segmentation and object tracking
  • Clustering of high-dimensional data such as text, images, and videos
  • Anomaly detection
  • Density estimation
Mean Shift vs. K-Means

Mean shift is often compared to K-means, another popular clustering algorithm. K-means is a centroid-based algorithm that works by minimizing the sum of squared distances between data points and their assigned centroids. However, unlike Mean shift, K-means assumes that the clusters are convex and have equal variance, which limits its performance on non-convex and high-dimensional data.

In contrast, Mean shift can handle arbitrary shapes and sizes of clusters, making it more suitable for complex and high-dimensional data. Also, Mean shift does not require prior assumptions about the number of clusters, which is often a limitation in K-means.


Mean shift is a popular clustering technique in machine learning and computer vision due to its flexibility in handling arbitrary shapes and sizes of clusters. While the algorithm can be computationally expensive and requires careful tuning of the bandwidth parameter, it has proven to be highly effective on high-dimensional data and a wide range of applications.