Background and objective: To compare the onset of action, and quality of block, of lidocaine 2% with levobupivacaine 0.75% for sub-Tenon's block in patients undergoing cataract surgery. Methods: We performed a two-centre trial in 91 patients who were randomized to receive 4 mL of lidocaine 2% (n = 44) or levobupivacaine 0.75% (n = 47) for sub-Tenon's block, both with hyaluronidase 15 IU mL−1. Onset of akinesia was assessed every 2 min for 10 min. Numbers of patients requiring supplementary injections to achieve clinically satisfactory akinesia or rescue analgesia were recorded. Data were analyzed with Fisher's exact test, U-test and t-test where appropriate. Results were considered significant when P < 0.05. Results: The speed of onset was statistically significantly faster for lidocaine compared to levobupivacaine (3.02 vs. 5.06 min, P < 0.001). There was no statistical difference in number of patients requiring a supplementary injection of local anaesthetic (levobupivacaine 3 vs. lidocaine 0, P = 0.24), rescue analgesia with topical tetracaine (levobupivacaine 0 vs. lidocaine 2, P = 0.5), or ocular akinesia scores at the completion of surgery (lidocaine 1.4 vs. levobupivacaine 1.6, P = 0.12). Pain scores measured by a verbal analogue scale were not significantly different for injection, perioperatively or postoperatively. Conclusions: Both agents produce a rapid onset of anaesthesia when used for sub-Tenon's block. The difference between the two agents, although statistically significant, is not clinically important.