In an attempt to elucidate more fully the pathophysiologic basis of early visual dysfunction in patients with diabetes mellitus, color vision (hue discrimination) and spatial resolution (contrast sensitivity) were tested in diabetic patients with little or no retinopathy (n = 57) and age-matched visual normals (n = 35). Some evidence of visual dysfunction was observed in 37.8% of the diabetics with no retinopathy and 60.0% of the diabetics with background retinopathy. Although significant hue discrimination and contrast sensitivity deficits were observed in both groups of diabetic patients, contrast sensitivity was abnormal more frequently than hue discrimination. However, only 5.4% of the diabetics with no retinopathy and 10.0% of the diabetics with background retinopathy exhibited both abnormal hue discrimination and abnormal contrast sensitivity. Contrary to previous reports, blue-yellow (B-Y) and red-green (R-G) hue discrimination deficits were observed with approximately equal frequency. In the diabetic group, contrast sensitivity was reduced at all spatial frequencies tested, but for individual diabetic patients, significant deficits were only evident for the mid-range spatial frequencies. Among diabetic patients, the hue discrimination deficits, but not the contrast sensitivity abnormalities, were correlated with the patients' hemoglobin A1 level. A negative correlation between contrast sensitivity at 6.0 cpd and the duration of diabetes also was observed.