Hopefully I can expand a bit on the image range scaling point, with some historical perspective on image processing data handling and how we got to where we are today.
Long before scikit-image existed, image processing was often taught via Matlab with the appropriate toolbox. Curricula have generally opened with discussions about datatype; this was central to interacting with the underlying image data. A very old function provided in the Mathworks toolbox does this: im2double which takes an integer array and hands you back a double array. However, it is not a simple dtype conversion; this function rescales the input image from the original range to the range [0, 1]. I believe the original reasoning for this was that certain image operations were simpler and more intuitive to consider/teach with unit range, e.g., exposure operations and inverting the image.
Scikit-Image has taken the position that we accept "[nearly] anything" as an input dtype, but we do not guarantee the output will match the input. If a modified image is returned (exposure, transformed, denoised, etc.), generally integer images are accepted but floating point images are returned to avoid inherent precision loss in pipelines. We check the input datatype to see if it needs to be changed for safety, and if necessary we do so.
Datatype conversion currently takes an input integer image and rescales it to [0, 1] - Matlab style - by default. In many cases the rescaling step is not optional. Rescaling to [0, 1] is expected by Matlab veterans but perennially confuses new users. More concerning, some image data has physical meaning (e.g., CT Hounsfield units) and for obvious reasons, such users want to opt out of this behavior. We've made it possible to turn off rescaling, and some functions now expose a `preserve_range=` kwarg, but the current default behavior remains to silently rescale for backwards compatibility.
We propose to globally remove the Matlab-style forced rescaling. Our functions would no longer assume a unit range, and would instead respect the input data range even if conversion to float is required for safety.
Many if not most users may not even notice this change. In the worst case it is a linear multiplicative scaling. For those who do, it is easy to retain the prior behavior by normalizing their images in preprocessing or using `img_as_float()` with an optional kwarg to enable legacy unit normalization.
Put differently, the current state is like if Scikit-Learn automatically whitened all input data and you couldn't turn this off even if you wanted to. Instead, Scikit-Learn strongly recommends whitening but ultimately the user is responsible for their data. We want Scikit-Image to move to a similar model, where we do not impose Matlab-style rescaling on our users' data.