The spectrum of diabetic retinopathy, the need for fundus screening and the evaluation of two presumptive screening methods, was investigated in a population based study among patients with type II diabetes. Retinal evaluation was performed in 86.9% of the known diabetic population. Background diabetic retinopathy was detected in 37.8%, pre-proliferative in 1.1% and proliferative retinopathy in 3.8%. Diabetic maculopathy was found in 24.3% of the patients. Laser therapy was considered in 11.4% of the patients due to diabetic retinopathy, and in 14.6% when venous occlusive diseases were included. Two methods, a slit-lamp observation enhanced by a 60D lens and reading from two non-stereo photographs of the posterior pole, were evaluated among 154 patients willing and mentally capable of being examined by either method. The sensitivity of the photographic method was 87/97% (right eye/left eye) when detecting background retinopathy and 81/80% for maculopathy versus 69/61% and 79/63%, respectively, with the slit-lamp method. The photographic method could be applied in 93% of the patients mentally capable of cooperation. Only 5 or 6 patients could be examined per hour with the 60D slit-lamp compared with 30-35 examined by reading retinal photographs. The photographic method is recommended as an easy and reliable screening device for diabetic retinopathy among patients with type II diabetes.