Recent work suggests that the visual system may represent early visual information in an energy efficient manner [Nature 381 (1996); Nature, 381 (1996) 607; Neural Comput. 3 (2001) 799; Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 11 (2001) 475]. This paper applies the idea of energy efficient representations to understand retinal processing, and provides evidence that centre surround processing observed is efficient in terms of minimizing synaptic activity. In particular, it is shown that receptive fields at different retinal eccentricities and at different levels of noise, can be understood in terms of maximizing the transmission of visual information given a constraint on total synaptic strengths and hence energy consumption.