The Devil is in the Channels: Mutual-Channel Loss for Fine-Grained Image Classification

Key for solving fine-grained image categorization is finding discriminate and local regions that correspond to subtle visual traits. Great strides have been made, with complex networks designed specifically to learn part-level discriminate feature representations. In this paper, we show it is possible to cultivate subtle details without the need for overly complicated network designs or training mechanisms -- a single loss is all it takes. The main trick lies with how we delve into individual feature channels early on, as opposed to the convention of starting from a consolidated feature map. The proposed loss function, termed as mutual-channel loss (MC-Loss), consists of two channel-specific components: a discriminality component and a diversity component. The discriminality component forces all feature channels belonging to the same class to be discriminative, through a novel channel-wise attention mechanism. The diversity component additionally constraints channels so that they become mutually exclusive on spatial-wise. The end result is therefore a set of feature channels that each reflects different locally discriminative regions for a specific class. The MC-Loss can be trained end-to-end, without the need for any bounding-box/part annotations, and yields highly discriminative regions during inference. Experimental results show our MC-Loss when implemented on top of common base networks can achieve state-of-the-art performance on all four fine-grained categorization datasets (CUB-Birds, FGVC-Aircraft, Flowers-102, and Stanford-Cars). Ablative studies further demonstrate the superiority of MC-Loss when compared with other recently proposed general-purpose losses for visual classification, on two different base networks. Code available at

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Task Dataset Model Metric Name Metric Value Global Rank Result Benchmark
Fine-Grained Image Classification CUB-200-2011 MC Loss (B-CNN) Accuracy 86.4% # 60
Fine-Grained Image Classification CUB-200-2011 MC Loss (ResNet50) Accuracy 87.3% # 57
Fine-Grained Image Classification FGVC Aircraft MC Loss (B-CNN) Accuracy 92.9% # 29
Fine-Grained Image Classification Stanford Cars MC Loss (B-CNN) Accuracy 94.4% # 42