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The whole architecture of ROS makes the assumption that one wants to distribute the computation on several nodes dedicated to a particular subproblem that needs to be solved. Therefore, there is no direct API in image_proc to rectify an image. If performance is a problem, you may run both your algorithm and the rectification in the same process using nodelets.

Doing things differently and trying to extract C++ API from ROS nodes is not a good idea. If you really want to do so, then ROS is probably not the right tool for you and you should directly use OpenCV API.