Current understanding of the anatomy, function and performance of the accommodative system of the young, adult human eye is outlined. Most major current models of the accommodative mechanism are based on Helmholtz's original ideas but, despite of a growing volume of related research, uncertainty continues over the relative contributions made to the overall mechanism by different ocular structures. The changes with age are then discussed. Although the amplitude of accommodation decreases steadily from later childhood, the speed and accuracy of the system within the available amplitude are little impaired until the age of about 40, when the amplitude falls below that needed for normal near work. A review of the available evidence on age-related change in the lens, capsule, ciliary body and other relevant ocular structures confirms that geometric and viscoelastic lenticular changes play major roles in the progressive loss of accommodation. Other factors may also contribute in an, as yet, unquantified way and a full understanding of the origins of presbyopic change remains elusive.