Scanning laser ophthalmoscopes (SLOs) are used widely for reflectance, fluorescence or autofluorescence photography and less commonly for retroillumination imaging. SLOs scan a visible light or near-infrared radiation laser beam across the retina, collecting light from each retinal spot as it’s illuminated. An SLO’s clinical applications, image contrast and axial resolution are largely determined by an aperture overlying its photodetector. High contrast, reflectance images are produced using small diameter, centered apertures (confocal apertures) that collect retroreflections and reject side-scattered veiling light returned from the fundus. Retroillumination images are acquired with annular on-axis or laterally-displaced off-axis apertures that capture scattered light and reject the retroreflected light used for reflectance imaging. SLO axial resolution is roughly 300 μm, comparable to macular thickness, so SLOs cannot provide the depth-resolved chorioretinal information obtainable with optical coherence tomography’s (OCT’s) 3 μm axial resolution. Retroillumination highlights and shades the boundaries of chorioretinal tissues and abnormalities, facilitating detection of small drusen, subretinal drusenoid deposits and subthreshold laser lesions. It also facilitates screening for large-area chorioretinal irregularities not readily identified with other en face retinal imaging modalities. Shaded boundaries create the perception of lesion elevation or depression, a characteristic of retroillumination but not reflectance SLO images. These illusions are not reliable representations of three-dimensional chorioretinal anatomy and they differ from objective OCT en face topography. SLO retroillumination has been a useful but not indispensable retinal imaging modality for over 30 years. Continuing investigation is needed to determine its most appropriate clinical roles in multimodal retinal imaging.
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