Though rare, would you say it is incorrect? A quick search on the web yields many uses of this phrase "... je voyais l'image du drapeau canadien ..." from http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvie_Bernier
In English "I was seeing the image" would also only apply to rare circumstances of a continuous action in the past.
My comment on perception verbs was about English only since progressive/continuous tenses do not exist in French.
"je voyais l'image" (imparfait) is perfectly correct, as long as the context allows:
"Debout sur le mur, je voyais la Tour Eiffel" (lasting action in the past = I could see, or I used to see).
"J'ai vu la Tour Eiffel pendant mon dernier voyage à Paris" (isolated action in the past = I saw)
Although this might seem somewhat belated an interjection, I dare challenge your explanation as you have yourself indicated elsewhere that there is no direct correspondence between Present Perfect and Passé Composé, on one hand, and Past Continuous and Imparfait, on the other, let alone Present and Past in English and French, for that matter. Moreover, as the guide on french.about.com says, verbs such as see, think etc. do not need the demi-auxiliary pouvoir (sorry if I am mixing up the terminology here) where the English would use can: I can see the teacher is thus rendered as je vois le professeur. Accordingly, je voyais l'image (to stretch it a bit) can as well be rendered as I could see the picture rather than I was seeing the picture. What'd you say?
I have noticed that the modal "can" is often added when the French do not deem it necessary. Therefore, in that little sentence, according to context, intention, emotion etc, an English speaker could choose "I saw", "I was seeing" or "I could see" or even "I would see"; when the French would use "j'ai vu", "je voyais" or "je pouvais voir" (+ additional indications for nuances or other more precise verbs!).
- la nuit dernière, j'ai vu dans mon rêve l'image de ma mère (I saw) - alt: j'ai aperçu
- enfant, de la fenêtre de ma chambre, je voyais la mer (I used to see/I would see) - alt: je pouvais voir
- par beau temps, je pouvais voir les côtes anglaises (I could see) - alt: je discernais
- je voyais l'image, mais sans la comprendre (I was seeing)
Note: that is my interpretation of the English adaptation to my French intentions: pls tell me what you think.
Oh, I wish I were such an illuminate! What I can see is that the child in your second bullet point has probably mutated from some eventuality :) Otherwise, I think I am pretty much old school as far as the use of progressive tense goes and would perhaps wholly subscribe to the following: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv319.shtml Au moins, en ce qui concerne le mot see. As disappointing as it is.
I've learned that "to see" and "to look/watch" aren't exactly the same. Voir, unlike regarder has the potential take on the deeper meaning of understanding something, involving more cognitive senses. Like for example, you might look at an elaborate painting, but do you see a theme within that painting?