Intracellular free calcium concentrations ([Ca2+]i) are assessed by measuring indicator fluorescence in entire cells or subcellular regions using fluorescence microscopy. [Ca2+]i is calculated using equations which link fluorescence intensities (or intensity ratios) to calcium concentrations [G. Grynkiewicz, M. Poenie, R.Y. Tsien, A new generation of Ca2+ indicators with greatly improved fluorescence properties, J. Biol. Chem. 260 (1985) 3440-3450]. However, if calcium ions are heterogeneously distributed within a region of interest, then the observed average fluorescence intensity may not reflect average [Ca2+]i. We assessed potential calcium determination errors in mathematical and experimental models consisting of 'low' and 'high' calcium compartments, using indicators with different affinity for calcium. [Ca2+] calculated using average fluorescence intensity was lower than the actual mean concentrations. Low affinity indicators reported higher (more accurate) values than their high affinity counterparts. To estimate compartment dimensions and respective [Ca2+], we extended the standard approach by using different indicator responses to the same [Ca2+]. While two indicators were sufficient to provide a partial characterization of two-compartment model systems, the use of three or more indicators offered full description of the model provided compartmental [Ca2+] were within the indicator sensitivity ranges. These results show that uneven calcium distribution causes underestimation of actual [Ca2+], and offers novel approaches to estimating calcium heterogeneity.