Many binary classifiers vs. single multiclass classifier

What factors should be considered when determining whether to use multiple binary classifiers or a single multiclass classifier?

For example, I’m building a model that does hand gesture classification. A simple case has 4 outputs: [None, thumbs_up, clenched_fist, all_fingers_extended]. I see two ways to approach this:

Option 1 – Multiple binary classifiers

  1. [None, thumbs_up]
  2. [None, clenched_fist]
  3. [None, all_fingers_extended]

Option 2 – Single multiclass classifier

  1. [None, thumbs_up, clenched_first, all_fingers_extended]

Which approach tends to be better and in what conditions?


Your Option 1 may not be the best way to go; if you want to have multiple binary classifiers try a strategy called One-vs-All.

In One-vs-All you essentially have an expert binary classifier that is really good at recognizing one pattern from all the others, and the implementation strategy is typically cascaded. For example:

  if classifierNone says is None: you are done
    if classifierThumbsUp says is ThumbsIp: you are done
      if classifierClenchedFist says is ClenchedFist: you are done
        it must be AllFingersExtended and thus you are done

Here is a graphical explanation of One-vs-all from Andrew Ng’s course:

Multi-class classifiers pros and cons:


  • Easy to use out of the box
  • Great when you have really many classes


  • Usually slower than binary classifiers during training
  • For high-dimensional problems they could really take a while to converge

Popular methods:

  • Neural networks
  • Tree-based algorithms

One-vs-All classifiers pros and cons:


  • Since they use binary classifiers, they are usually faster to converge
  • Great when you have a handful of classes


  • It is really annoying to deal with when you have too many classes
  • You really need to be careful when training to avoid class imbalances that introduce bias, e.g., if you have 1000 samples of none and 3000 samples of the thumbs_up class.

Popular methods:

  • SVMs
  • Most ensemble methods
  • Tree-based algorithms

Source : Link , Question Author : megashigger , Answer Author : Pablo Rivas

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