The dynamics of clathrin-mediated endocytosis can be assayed using fluorescently tagged proteins and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy. Many of these proteins, including clathrin and dynamin, are soluble and changes in fluorescence intensity can be attributed either to membrane/vesicle movement or to changes in the numbers of individual molecules. It is important for assays to discriminate between physical membrane events and the dynamics of molecules. Two physical events in endocytosis were investigated: vesicle scission from the plasma membrane and vesicle internalization. Single vesicle analysis allowed the characterization of dynamin and clathrin dynamics relative to scission and internalization. We show that vesicles remain proximal to the plasma membrane for variable amounts of time following scission, and that uncoating of clathrin can occur before or after vesicle internalization. The dynamics of dynamin also vary with respect to scission. Results from assays based on physical events suggest that disappearance of fluorescence from the evanescent field should be re-evaluated as an assay for endocytosis. These results illustrate the heterogeneity of behaviors of endocytic vesicles and the importance of establishing suitable evaluation criteria for biophysical processes. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.