FAQ: What is the algorithm used in automatic thresholding?
What is the algorithm used by ImageJ to find the ideal threshold value?
The automatic thresholding function used by Image>Adjust>Threshold and Process>Binary>Threshold is an iterative procedure based on the isodata algorithm [T.W. Ridler, S. Calvard, Picture thresholding using an iterative selection method, IEEE Trans. System, Man and Cybernetics, SMC-8 (1978) 630-632.]
The online Image Processing Fundamentals tutorial discusses the isodata algorithm among several others.
Briefly, the procedure divides the image into objects and background by taking an initial threshold, then the averages of the pixels at or below the threshold and pixels above are computed. The averages of those two values are computed, the threshold is incremented and the process is repeated until the threshold is larger than the composite average. That is,
threshold = (average background + average objects)/2
The code in ImageJ that implements this function is the getAutoThreshold() method in the ImageProcessor class.
Note that there are many more methods for setting an automatic threshold (such as Otsu's method, entropy method, triangle method, k-means clustering, etc).