First measures of sensitivity and the need for a model to interpret them are addressed. Then modeling in the Fourier domain is promoted by a demonstration of how such an approach explains spatial sensitization and its dependence on luminance. Then the retinal illuminance and receptor absorptions produced by various stimuli are derived to foster interpretation of the neural mechanisms underlying various psychophysical phenomena. Finally, the sequence and the anatomical loci of the processes controlling visual sensitivity are addressed. It is concluded that multiplicative adaptation often has effects identical to response compression followed by subtractive adaptation and that, perhaps as a consequence, there is no evidence of retinal gain changes in human cone vision until light levels are well above those available in natural scenes and in most contemporary psychophysical experiments; that contrast gain control fine tunes sensitivity to patterns at all luminances; and that response compression, modulated by subtractive adaptation, predominates in the control of sensitivity in human cone vision. © 1997 Optical Society of America.