Bulk fluorescence measurements have been popular in algal culture studies and in oceanographic and limnological applications. Usually, fluorescence is interpreted as an indicator of chlorophyll concentration or phytoplankton biomass, but sometimes measurements of fluorescence can be related to physiological properties of phytoplankton, such as responses to light. Now that in situ fluorometers are being deployed routinely with optical packages, there is active interest in interpreting the relationships between fluorescence, beam transmission, diffuse attenuation, and the physiological characteristics of phytoplankton. Flow cytometry offers the potential to extend these interpretations to the scale of individual cells. It may be difficult to compare measurements of fluorescence, however, because instruments differ greatly in excitation irradiance and time scale of measurement. With this in mind, we examined the short-term responses of a marine diatom to bright light, comparing different instruments (SeaTech in situ fluorometer, Turner Designs fluorometer, EPICS flow cytometer, FACS Analyzer, SeaTech beam transmissometer) while making concurrent measurements of photosynthesis vs irradiance and absorption spectra. Each fluorometer yielded somewhat different information, yet all showed a similar pattern of inhibition after exposure. One instrument, the in situ pulsed fluorometer, could show rapid changes of fluorescence immediately after large shifts of irradiance. Beam attenuation did not decline with the bright light treatment, nor did the specific absorption of chlorophyll. Photosynthetic efficiency was reduced after exposure to bright light, but the capacity for photosynthesis in high irradiance increased at the same time. These results are preliminary: nonetheless they support some interpretations of fluorescence/beam attenuation ratios, clarify some aspects of photosynthetic response to bright light, and suggest that flow cytometry may be useful for assessing physiological heterogeneity in phytoplankton assemblages.