The cone dystrophies are a heterogeneous group of inherited disorders that result in dysfunction of the cone photoreceptors and sometimes their post-receptoral pathways. The major clinical features of cone dystrophy are photophobia, reduced visual acuity and abnormal colour vision. Ganzfeld electroretinography shows reduced or absent cone responses. On the basis of their natural history, the cone dystrophies may be broadly divided into two groups: stationary and progressive cone dystrophies. The stationary cone dystrophies have received more attention, and subsequently our knowledge of their molecular genetic, psychophysical and clinical characteristics is better developed. Various methods of classification have been proposed for the progressive cone dystrophies, but none is entirely satisfactory, largely because the underlying disease mechanisms are poorly understood. Multidisciplinary studies involving clinical assessment, molecular genetics, electrophysiology and psychophysics should lead to an improved understanding of the pathogenesis of these disorders.