Created by optician Maria Short in the 1850s, the Camera Obscura is a system of mirrors that projects a periscope image of the city on to a white disc in the centre of a small darkened room. Major landmarks are pointed out by the guides as they pan the lens across Edinburgh. While the camera is no longer as thrilling as it must have been in Victorian times, its innate cleverness is still engaging. (Note that the last camera presentation usually begins an hour before scheduled closing, sometimes earlier in winter depending on the levels of daylight.) More impressive to the modern tourist, perhaps, is the set of powerful telescopes on the roof, which offer superb views across the city. Once you've spied on Edinburghers going about their business from up here, you'll really begin to notice the CCTV cameras on the city's street corners.
Before you reach the camera, you'll pass through three floors of exhibits, including holographs, pin-hole cameras, morphing machines and other visual and interactive technology. Kids, though, seem just as happy playing outside with the distorting mirrors set into the exterior of the building.