Created By: SpiderRider3 on May 2, 2013 Last Edited By: SpiderRider3 on April 24, 2016

Obvious Surveillance Cameras

Fictional surveillance cameras are large, obvious, and motorized, instead of the black domes from real life

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Thanks to the Rule of Perception, fictional surveillance cameras are always large, obvious, and move.

Moving surveillance cameras are known as Pan/Tilt/Zoom, or PTZ, cameras. They have motors which move the camera, providing controls to the operator to allow them to point the camera at items of interest and zoom in on them.

While PTZ cameras are very cool, they are much more expensive than their fixed counterparts. An extremely high end remote control camera can cost up to $2000. [[note:Lower end cameras may cost only a few hundred dollars, but zoom levels, resolution, movement speed, and low light performance decrease with cost.]] As such, they are generally limited to high security applications, as well as large department stores who must reduce shoplifting and can afford the high cost.

PTZ cameras are only useful when monitored by a human who can move the camera and zoom in on suspect individuals or activities. Fictional cameras are never monitored and instead of being left in a static position overlooking the area they watch, they are programmed to automatically sweep through a preset pattern instead. Anyone infiltrating a Supervillain Lair or other secure facility will face the challenge of dodging the cameras to pass undetected.

These two factors make remote control security cameras a bit less common than fixed cameras in real life. Most people don't have the resources to pay for the cameras or the staff to operate them. But due to the Rule of Perception, nearly all fictional surveillance cameras can move. A black hemisphere on the ceiling may not be obvious enough to a viewer, but a moving, whirring, device will be.

Where PTZ cameras are used in real life, they are usually contained within a black dome to conceal the direction it is looking. This prevents people from dodging or hiding from them the way they do too often in movies. Motorized bullet cameras do exist, but are mostly used in applications where their direction doesn't need to be concealed, such as traffic cameras and baby monitors.

See also Insecurity Camera.


Live-Action TV
  • Two and a Half Men. Alan and Charlie's mother has one of these at the front door of her house.
  • Breaking Bad. Gus adds one to the lab Walter and Jesse cook in. The use of a PTZ camera here is justified, since cooking methamthetamine is a complex process and it makes sense Gus would want to zoom in to see what they are doing up close.
  • In the Will and Grace episode "Hocus Focus", there's a PTZ security camera in the room Karen is going to have her conjugal visit with Stan. She develops an amicable relationship with it, and when she's informed Stan can't come, she turns to the camera in anger.
    Karen: Did you know about this?
    The camera moves up and down, as if nodding.
    Karen: And you didn't tell me.
    Camera moves left and right, as if saying no.
    Karen: You should be ashamed of yourself.
    Camera lowers slowly, as if it were ashamed.

Video Games
  • Watch_Dogs takes this quite far, with even laptop webcams and body worn cameras being moveable by remote control.
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • May 2, 2013
    I believe that this is primarily to provide the audience with the cue that there are surveillance cameras, especially considering that many people don't even realize those black hemispheres hanging off the ceiling are cameras.
  • May 2, 2013
    Film Animated
    • When Fagan, Dodger and Oliver visit the lair of the ruthless Mister Sykes in Oliver & Company, a PTZ camera swings around to peer at them. "Yeah? Who is it?" Sykes barks through an intercom. The lens array rotates to adjust the focal length. "Fagan! Why didn't you say so?" Justified, in that in 1988, dome cameras hadn't hit the market yet.
  • May 25, 2014
    PTZ may be a common term in the security industry, but could we get something more generally known for the trope title?
  • May 25, 2014
  • May 25, 2014
    Perhaps Remote Control Security Camera or Motorized Security Camera since this is about the cameras moving, rather than being obvious.
  • May 26, 2014
    Artemis Fowl has a fairy-tech contact lens that allows the wearer to see the camera's field of vision as a golden beam (although the type of camera used isn't mentioned).

  • May 27, 2014
    In The Bionic Woman episode The Deadly Missiles, Jaime breaks into a radar installation and sets off a security system, which consists of at least one PTZ camera with an (audible) flashing red light. Note that this camera includes a laser that "slices in half" everything that moves.
  • May 27, 2014
    In an episode of The Simpsons Bart sees a camera in the mall changing room where he's been sent to try on some new clothes. He uses the cardboard backing from a shirt to write a message to the surveillance team: "Eat My Shorts."
  • October 8, 2014
  • October 9, 2014
    In the Will And Grace episode 'Hocus Focus', there's a PTZ security camera in the room Karen is going to have her conjugal visit with Stan. She develops an amicable relationship with it, and when she's informed Stan can't come, she turns to the camera in anger.
    Karen: Did you know about this?
    (The camera moves up and down, as if nodding.)
    And you didn't tell me.
    (Camera moves left and right, as if saying no.)
    You should be ashamed of yourself.
    (Camera lowers slowly, as if it were ashamed.)
  • October 10, 2014
    In the first episode of Sherlock, Mycroft demonstrates his influence to John by having all the security cameras in the street turn away so they won't see what happens to John next.
  • March 29, 2015
    Bump, maybe
  • March 29, 2015
  • March 29, 2015
    • The Terminal: After trying to get Viktor out of the airport so he doesn't have to deal with him anymore, Dixon encourages him to leave, despite having an invalid passport, which would make him the FBI's problem, then goes to the security center to watch on the camera feed. Viktor notices the camera staring at him, and Dixon has it pan to the side to make it look like a standard sweep. Viktor, suspecting he's being watched, moves directly under it, where it can't pan down enough to see him.
  • March 30, 2015
  • February 18, 2016
    I have fond memories of exploiting the rotation intervals of the security cameras at my old school to cross the building without being filmed, just because I could
  • February 18, 2016
    Kinda thinking Splinter Cell games have this.