Nd:YAG laser photodisruption with nanosecond (ns) pulses is an established method for intraocular surgery. In order to assess whether an increased precision can be achieved by the use of picosecond (ps) pulses, the plasma size, the shock wave characteristics, and the cavitation bubble expansion after optical breakdown with ps- and ns-laser pulses were investigated by time-resolved photography and acoustic measurements. Nd:YAG laser pulses with a duration of 30 ps and 6 ns, respectively, were focused into a water-filled glass cuvette. Frequency doubled light from the same laser pulses was optically delayed between 2 ns and 136 ns and used as illumination light source for photography. Since the individual events were well reproducible, the shock wave and bubble wall position could be determined as a function of time. From the slope of these r(t) curves, the shock wave and bubble wall velocities were determined, and the shock wave pressure was calculated from the shock velocity. The plasma size at various laser pulse energies was measured from photographs of the plasma radiation. The breakdown thresholds at 30 ps and 6 ns pulse duration were found to be 15 microJ and 200 microJ, respectively. At threshold, ps-plasmas are shorter than ns-plasmas, but at the same pulse energy they are always approximately 2.5 times longer. The initial shock pressures were 17 kbar after ps-pulses with an energy of 50 microJ, and 21 kbar after 1 mJ ns-pulses. The pressure amplitude decayed much faster after the ps-pulses. The maximum expansion velocity of the cavitation bubble was 350 m/s after a 50 microJ ps-pulse, but 1,600 m/s after a 1 mJ ns-pulse. The side effects of intraocular microsurgery associated with shock wave emission and cavitation bubble expansion can be considerably reduced by the use of ps-pulses, and new applications of photodisruption may become possible.