A combination of optical imaging diagnostics has been applied to the fuel jet of a direct-injection diesel engine to study the ignition and early soot formation processes. Measurements were made in an optically accessible direct-injection diesel engine of the “heavy-duty” size class at a representative medium speed (1200 rpm) operating condition. Two fuels were used, a 42.5 cetane number mixture of the diesel reference fuels and a new low-sooting fuel (needed to reduce optical attenuation at later crank angles) that closely matches both the cetane number and boiling point of the reference fuel mixture. The combustion and soot formation processes are found to be almost identical for both fuels. Ignition and early combustion were studied by imaging the natural chemiluminescence using a calibrated intensified video camera. The early soot development was investigated via luminosity imaging and simultaneous planar imaging of laser-induced incandescence (LII) and elastic scattering. The latter provide relative soot concentrations and particle size distributions.The data show that ignition, as measured by the first detectable chemiluminescence, occurs at multiple points across the downstream region of all the fuel jets prior to the first apparent heat release and well before any soot luminosity occurs. Quantitative vapor-fuel/air mixture images in the leading portion of the jet are also presented and discussed with respect to the early combustion data. The first soot occurs at random locations, and shortly thereafter, small soot particles develop throughout the cross section of the leading portion of the jet. The data indicate that this soot arises from the fuel-rich premixed burn. Then, significantly larger soot particles appear around the periphery of the jet, presumably from the initial diffusion combustion. By the end of the premixed burn, the soot has developed a distribution pattern of a higher concentration toward the front of the jet and a lower concentration upstream, with the larger-sized soot particles being generally confined to the periphery of the jet.