The spatiotemporal profile of intracellular calcium signals is determined by the flux of calcium ions across different biological membranes as well as by the diffusional mobility of calcium and different calcium buffers in the cell. To arrive at a quantitative understanding of the determinants of these signals, one needs to dissociate the flux contribution from the redistribution and buffering of calcium. Since the cytosol can be heterogeneous with respect to its calcium buffering property, it is essential to assess this property in a spatially resolved manner. In this paper we report on two different methods to estimate the cellular calcium binding of bovine adrenal chromaffin cells. In the first method, we use voltage-dependent calcium channels as a source to generate calcium gradients in the cytosol. Using imaging techniques, we monitor the dissipation of these gradients to estimate local apparent calcium diffusion coefficients and, from these, local calcium binding ratios. This approach requires a very high signal-to-noise ratio of the calcium measurement and can be used when well-defined calcium gradients can be generated throughout the cell. In the second method, we overcome these problems by using calcium-loaded DM-nitrophen as a light-dependent calcium source to homogeneously and quantitatively release calcium in the cytosol. By measuring [Ca2+] directly before and after the photorelease process and knowing the total amount of calcium being released photolytically, we get an estimate of the fraction of calcium ions which does not appear as free calcium and hence must be bound to either the indicator dye or the endogenous calcium buffer. This finally results in a two-dimensional map of the distribution of the immobile endogenous calcium buffer. We did not observe significant variations of the cellular calcium binding at a spatial resolution of approximately 2 micron. Furthermore, the calcium binding is not reduced by increasing the resting [Ca2+] to levels as high as 1.1 microM. This is indicative of a low calcium affinity of the corresponding buffers and is in agreement with a recent report on the affinity of these buffers (Xu, T., M. Naraghi, H. Kang, and E. Neher. 1997. Biophys. J. 73:532-545). In contrast to the homogeneous distribution of the calcium buffers, the apparant calcium diffusion coefficient did show inhomogeneities, which can be attributed to restricted diffusion at the nuclear envelope and to rim effects at the cell membrane.