The purpose of this study was to explore progress, in the adaptation to community screening for blinding eye disease, of digital imaging devices and technology for storage and transmission. Available imaging systems were compared to gold standard clinical photography in terms of sensitivity and specificity for diagnosis of common blinding eye conditions. Since the use of expensive non-portable imaging devices is likely to be limited for widespread community screening purposes, a portable fundus camera (Nidek, Chiyoda-ku, Japan) and a prototype monocular digital indirect ophthalmoscope constructed at the Lions Eye Institute (LEI) were selected for comparative trials for the screening of optic disc cupping, glaucoma and clinical signs of diabetic retinopathy. Fifty-one eyes of 27 consecutive patients being assessed at the LEI clinic for glaucoma were dilated and photographed with a Zeiss retinal camera, and digital images were taken with the portable Nidek NM100 fundus camera (Carl Zeiss, Oberkochen, Germany) or with a prototype digital monocular indirect ophthalmoscope. Vertical cup : disc ratios (VCDR) were measured on the disc photographs by one ophthalmologist while three other clinicians were presented with compressed digital images in random order to estimate VCDR. Field trials were also carried out to demonstrate the practicality of compression, local storage and then transmission by mobile telephone ISDN lines and satellite, of optic discs and fundus images of patients with diabetes in either rural Western Australia or Surabaya, Indonesia. Kappa values of correlations of measurement of agreement between measured and estimated VCDR were 0.87, 0.45 and 0.84, respectively, for the three observers, corresponding to a specificity of 79-97% and a sensitivity of 70-95%. The portable Nidek fundus camera was also assessed for specificity and sensitivity in the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy in comparison to standard Zeiss fundus camera photographs. Of 49 eyes in 25 consecutive patients attending the LEI clinic for assessment of diabetic retinopathy, three ophthalmologists assessed photographs and images in random order. When used for screening diabetic retinopathy, the digital images of the Nidek camera were graded as adequate quality in only 56% of eyes compared to 93% of the photographs. The kappa value of agreement in analysis of diabetic retinopathy was only 0.30. The prototype digital monocular indirect ophthalmoscope compared favourably with the Nidek camera. At 1:5 compression, images of size 36 kB transmitted from Surabaya to Perth took 29 s on the mobile telephone, while uncompressed images took 170 s. Images compressed 1:5 were transmitted in 60 s using the satellite telephone, while the uncompressed images took 240 s. Satellite transmission was more expensive but the lines were more stable than telephone connections from Indonesia. Digital imaging is becoming a powerful tool for ophthalmology in clinical records, teaching and research, and interoffice diagnostic opinions. It also has enormous potential for community screening for blinding eye diseases, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Inexpensive portable imaging devices that are easy to use, and on which local health workers might be trained, must be developed and validated in terms of sensitivity and specificity of performance. The technology of image capture, image compression, transmission, data base storage and analysis is rapidly evolving and becoming less expensive.