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The iris contracts automatically in the presence of bright light. This makes a flashlight appear bright in darkness, but outside in daylight you can't even see it's light.

The iris is changing your sensitivity to the intenseness of light. But physically all is happening is the iris is getting smaller or larger. I can see how this allows less light to go in if it gets smaller, because it's less surface area. However, I would imagine this would change the field of view though if I didn't know any better. Why does it change the intenseness of light instead?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Imagine the iris like a shutter in front of a focussing lens (which, in fact, it is; see the diagram).

Eye diagram

This means that any light going through the iris will be focussed on a very small point on the retina, and your eye is wonderfully developed in a way that this exact spot is the fovea, the only spot in the retina that allows you to see colour and high-resolution.

The iris does not modify the focussing function, it merely changes the amount of light going through into the lens to then be focussed onto the fovea. Imagine that every single object in your field of view reflects/radiates light in every possible direction - narrowing the shutter won't exclude parts of the field of vision, it will only exclude some of the rays coming in at very flat angles and thereby reduce intensity.

Only if your lens is deformed, focussing (adaptation) will malfunction (directing the gathered light to the wrong spot; or focussing the incoming light in front of or behind the retina) and blur your vision.

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