Estimation of chest wall motion by surface measurements only allows one-dimensional measurements of the chest wall. We have assessed on optical reflectance system (OR), which tracks reflective markers in three dimensions (3-D) for respiratory use. We used 86 (6-mm-diameter) hemispherical reflective markers arranged circumferentially on the chest wall in seven rows between the sternal notch and the anterior superior iliac crest in two normal standing subjects. We calculated the volume of the entire chest wall and compared inspired and expired volumes with volumes obtained by spirometry. Marker positions were recorded by four TV cameras; two were 4 m in front of and two were 4 m behind the subject. The TV signals were sampled at 100 Hz and combined with grid calibration parameters on a personal computer to obtain the 3-D coordinates of the markers. Chest wall surfaces were reconstructed by triangulation through the point data, and chest wall volume was calculated. During tidal breathing and vital capacity maneuvers and during CO2-stimulated hyperpnea, there was a very close correlation of the lung volumes (VL) estimated by spirometry [VL(SP)] and OR [VL(OR)]. Regression equations of VL(OR) (y) vs. VL(SP) (x, BTPS in liters) for the two subjects were given by y = 1.01x-0.01 (r = 0.996) and y = 0.96x + 0.03 (r = 0.997), and by y = 1.04x + 0.25 (r = 0.97) and y = 0.98x + 0.14 (r = 0.95) for the two maneuvers, respectively. We conclude spirometric volumes can be estimated very accurately and directly from chest wall surface markers, and we speculate that OR may be usefully applied to calculations of chest wall shape, regional volumes, and motion analysis.