A panel of two physicians and two ophthalmologists examined 25 patients with untreated essential hypertension by direct ophthalmoscopy and assessment of fundal photographs; daytime ambulatory sphygmomanometric blood pressure monitoring, estimation of left ventricular mass by electrocardiography and two-dimensional echocardiography, and measurement of urinary microalbumin excretion were also carried out. No relation was found between blood pressure determined by clinic or ambulatory sphygmomanometry and retinopathy. The retinal features sought on fundal photographs were the percentages of arteriovenous crossings with venule nipping, venule deviation, or attenuation of venular light reflex. The ratio of arteriolar to venular diameter was measured. Only focal narrowing of arterioles was associated with higher blood pressure. There was no independent relation between retinal features and age, measures of left ventricular mass, or urinary microalbumin excretion. Assessment of arteriovenous crossing abnormalities by direct ophthalmoscopy was subject to wide variability among the panel members. Direct ophthalmoscopy was not clinically useful in the assessment of mild to moderate hypertension, whereas urinary microalbumin excretion correlated strongly with clinic blood pressure.