AIMS--This study was carried out to compare the effects of continuous wave infrared laser radiation on pigmented and albino rabbit retinas at two wavelengths: 810 nm (diode) and 1064 nm (Nd:YAG). METHODS--Transpupillary laser pulses were applied with a spot size of 200 microns and durations of 200 ms (pigmented rabbits) and 0.5-1 s (albino rabbits). Light and electron microscopic analyses were performed immediately after exposure. RESULTS--In pigmented rabbits, threshold lesions were induced using a power of 100 mW with the diode and 200 mW with the Nd:YAG lasers. Damage was incurred by the retinal pigment epithelium with extension into the superficial and mid choroid posteriorly and into the outer retina anteriorly. In albino rabbits, lesions of comparable anteroposterior extension were identified using a power of 10 W with the Nd:YAG laser. Using diode laser irradiation, a maximum power output of 1.2 W failed to produce discernible lesions. CONCLUSIONS--The observed patterns of morphological damage are produced by complex tissue radiation interactions. In pigmented animals, this was primarily related to absorption of radiant energy by melanin within the retinal pigment epithelium and the choroidal melanocytes. In albino rabbits, laser induced effects occurred as a consequence of multiple scattering, together with absorption within haemoglobin and possibly also within tissue water. The data obtained provide further insight into the biological mechanisms arising from retinal photocoagulation with near infrared lasers.