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We quantitatively compare filtered backprojection (FBP), expectation-maximization (EM), and Bayesian reconstruction algorithms as applied to the IndyPET scanner-a dedicated research scanner which has been developed for small and intermediate field of view imaging applications. In contrast to previous approaches that rely on Monte Carlo simulations, a key feature of our investigation is the use of an empirical system kernel determined from scans of line source phantoms. This kernel is incorporated into the forward model of the EM and Bayesian algorithms to achieve resolution recovery. Three data sets are used, data collected on the IndyPET scanner using a bar phantom and a Hoffman three-dimensional brain phantom, and simulated data containing a hot lesion added to a uniform background. Reconstruction quality is analyzed quantitatively in terms of bias-variance measures (bar phantom) and mean square error (lesion phantom). We observe that without use of the empirical system kernel, the FBP, EM, and Bayesian algorithms give similar performance. However, with the inclusion of the empirical kernel, the iterative algorithms provide superior reconstructions compared with FBP, both in terms of visual quality and quantitative measures. Furthermore, Bayesian methods outperform EM. We conclude that significant improvements in reconstruction quality can be realized by combining accurate models of the system response with Bayesian reconstruction algorithms.