Outlook Tower, Castlehill, Edinburgh Scotland
Our visit on September 11, 2006

The first camera obscura we ever visited in the summer of 1978 was on Castlehill in Edinburgh. We have been back to it many times and it holds a special place in our hearts. Our first itinerary for this trip did not include it but we were corresponding with the manager of the facility about use of one of our photographs and realized that Edinburgh was directly in our path when we traveled from Dundee to Dumfries. We always enjoy Edinburgh so decided to stop off there for a few days. What a wise decision!

The camera obscura is at the top of the Royal Mile, next to the castle. It was established in the 1850's by the optician Maria Theresa Short and was originally known as Short's Observatory. On our first visit it was called in the Outlook Tower but has now been named "Camera Obscura and World of Illusions". It now includes many amazing exhbitions of optical illusions.




Our initial visit to this beautifully operated camera obscura with its panoramic views of historic Edinburgh was . It was the first operating camera obscura we ever saw and we fell in love with the magic of the experience. Until that point the camera obscura room had been an interest from books on the history of photography. We have been back for four visits in the years since.

There is a ticket counter and gift shop at the entrance. Tickets are sold for a specific time shown on a sign when you buy the ticket. The camera obscura is located about six flights up in the tower. There is no elevator but there are exhibitions of camera obscuras, pinhole photography, and art on the floors you pass on your way up. These give nice stopping points in the climb. At the top is an observation deck with telescopes. At the appointed time the group files into the camera obscura and the guide (on all of our visits they have been enthusiastic and well rehearsed young people) gives a 15 minute demonstration of the camera obscura. In the few minutes between presentations they have always been happy to turn on the lights to let us photograph and videotape the interior.

Images of Edinburgh Outlook Tower from Our Collection
Since Outlook Tower was the first camera obscura that we visited, we wanted to find early images for our collection. We were frustrated to find no 19th century images. We looked at hundreds of early photographs of the area around the castle but never found one that showed a clear view of the distinctive cupola. In a recent search through the several hundred stereoscopic views of the British Isles in our collection we spotted a familiar silhouette on the skyline of the card shown below. Below it is a closeup showing Outlook Tower to the right of the Free Church of Scotland building.

Below is a booklet published in 1906 called A First Visit to the Outlook Tower. It describes the history of the tower and camera obscura.

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Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
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Camera Obscuras with the Lens at the Top
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A French Artist's Camera with supplies
Vermeer's Camera, a 1934 teaching camera
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