The existence of multiple channels, or multiple receptive field sizes, in the visual system does not commit us to any particular theory of spatial encoding in vision. However, distortions of apparent spatial frequency and width in a wide variety of conditions favour the idea that each channel carries a width- or frequency-related code or 'label' rather than a 'local sign' or positional label. When distortions of spatial frequency occur without prior adaptation (e.g. at low contrast or low luminance) they are associated with lowered sensitivity, and may be due to a mismatch between the perceptual labels and the actual tuning of the channels. A low-level representation of retinal space could be constructed from the spatial information encoded by the channels, rather than being projected intact from the retina.