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Jitter Cam

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"Shaky Cam. Fucking shaky cam. At some point, someone somewhere told Hollywood that people like incoherent, incompetent camera work blinding the audience with multiple cuts and assaulting us with nothing but a barrage of sound effects that are supposed to subconsciously tell us that something is happening on-screen."
Chris Stuckmann on this trope being used poorly, The Problem with Action Movies Today

Using a handheld camera with no damping and a lot of movement. Imagine trying to take a clear photo while running up a flight of stairs; you might get the subject in the frame, but it is not going to be perfectly centered or balanced against the rest of the background. It deliberately throws off the expectation of the meticulously directed scene with perfectly proportioned shots.

This technique imparts immediacy to the sequence, because it forces the viewer to pay closer attention to catch on to what is happening. It was originally a documentary technique, eventually becoming more common in TV episodes. Often an integral part, if not a nigh-mandatory side effect, of In-Universe Camera and P.O.V. Cam. Often used in conjunction with fast cutting (especially during fight scenes) as a method to convey energy, like saying "Things are so crazy the camera can't keep up!" It is sometimes used in slower, more emotional scenes as well, to heighten the dramatic effect.

Combines frequent use of the Whip Pan and the Repeat Cut. The antonym of SteadiCam. Sometimes referred to as "Shaky Cam" but that was coined by Sam Raimi in the use of the closely related trope Shaky P.O.V. Cam (using a POV shot of something moving, which would generally employ the use of the Jitter Cam).

Its popularity has increased recently, often overlapping with the style of the Faux Documentary and Mockumentary. (Pick any recent action film.) It can show up in non-live action works as well, see False Camera Effects.

Of course, jitter cam has also managed to gather a large Hatedom from people who feel that it's overdone and used to cover up badly choreographed action scenes. Like many things, it isn't inherently a bad thing to use but when used in excess (either too shaky or in too many scenes) many people will describe it as "headache" or "nausea" inducing, especially when viewed on a large movie screen or in 3-D, or remark that it becomes impossible to tell what's actually going on.

Contrast Screen Shake. See also Camera Abuse, Shaky P.O.V. Cam, Dizzy Cam.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Lagoon also uses it. Eg: in a car chase with the Robot Maid, the impact with a palm tree is accompanied by jittering camera tilt and shake, along with sustained motion-blur on palm tree itself.
  • Time of Eve uses Jitter Cam a lot. Sometimes, it's used to accentuate dramatic scenes, but mostly just for the hell of it.
  • Flag is told entirely from the point of view of various cameras and a computer screen. As such, the cameras can vary often end up moving around quite a bit, particularly when the photographer or the chosen camera is being used in combat.
  • Used in the opening sequence for Haibane Renmei.
  • The very first episode of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha used this while Nanoha was running back to the animal clinic containing Yuuno.
  • Anime Director Satoshi Kon likes to drop hints that he knows his camera (before his Author Avatar explicitly brags it in Paprika), and a few times in Paranoia Agent, the jittercam effect is illustrated to enhance an impact. It's especially noticeable in the late season fight between Maniwa and Slugger.
  • Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, so much. While jittering, the camera constantly goes in and out of focus as well.
  • In the final fight scene in the first episode of the anime Samurai Champloo, the camera not only jitters, but also loses focus at one point. The effect shows up in a few other episodes as well, always in a fight scene. Looks cool, although drawing attention to the camera raises the question of what a cameraman was doing in Edo Japan. Or a cartoon. And given the whole premise of the anime, probably deliberately.
  • The "camera" in Sword of the Stranger is pretty shaky during the fight scenes, and sometimes seems to have trouble keeping up with the combatants.

    Films — Animation 
  • How to Train Your Dragon uses it 3 times with a refreshingly light hand.
  • WALL•E is meticulously animated to contrast Jitter Cam-like shots on Earth with SteadiCam-esque shots aboard the Axiom to add another layer of Technology vs. Nature to the film.
  • Cosmos Laundromat had this for most of the Short Film, in an attempt to make it feel less animated.
  • In Turning Red, this is downplayed in the shot where Mei runs across the hallway of her home in her giant red panda form and the view shakes a little.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • American Honey: As with director Andrea Arnold’s previous feature Fish Tank, this film was mostly shot with a handheld camera to simulate Star’s P.O.V. and her immersion into life on the road.
  • The independent film Amreeka uses Jittercam more or less all the time, supplemented by a devout belief in the Close-Up.
  • Babylon A.D. to a nauseating excess.
  • This effect dates at least as far back as 1945 and documentary film The Battle of San Pietro, in which the combat scenes were filmed with handheld newsreel cameras, producing a Jitter Cam whenever a shell exploded or whenever the cameramen followed the attacking American soldiers. The battle scenes were recreations, but the Jitter Cam effect helps make them look so realistic that for decades afterwards people thought that the cameramen had actually gone into battle with the soldiers.
  • One of the largest criticisms of Batman Begins was overuse of shaky cam.
  • Battle: Los Angeles
  • Black Swan is filmed like this, including the ballet sequences.
  • The other codifier in the modern era of movies is The Blair Witch Project, due to being a Found Footage Film - the characters aren't professional cinematographers, and their distress makes the camera even more unstable. However, its usage of this trope (especially in the finale) was so extreme that it inflicted motion sickness upon some viewers of the film, even leading them to vomiting.
  • A trademark of Paul Greengrass. The Bourne Series started with sparse use of it in The Bourne Identity, and then Greengrass became the director, and there would be a tilting camera even during quiet dialogue scenes. It enhances the chaos and confusion, making the viewer feel the same distress and mental confusion of Jason Bourne - which is something many pointed out that those copying Bourne missed, exaggerating the shaky camera and fast edits to the point it instead takes the viewer out of the scene.
  • Children of Men has several tracking shots done with a shaky hand-held camera, resulting in an edgy watching experience.
  • Chronicle uses this extensively in the beginning of the film as is expected in a found footage movie. It is used less and less as Andrew begins using his powers to levitate the cameras giving a much smoother filming style.
  • Cloverfield, a giant-monster-eats-New-York story shown as "documentary footage" filmed by a guy with a camcorder, is eighty-five solid minutes of this.
  • Crank
  • Used In-Universe in The Dark Knight in the scene where the heroes view a video recorded by The Joker as he tortures a Batman imposter.
  • Diary of the Dead mostly (and thankfully) averts this, and tends to only suffer it during zombie attacks and for one segment filmed on a camcorder when their main camera's battery dies. We see at this point that, as film students, their main camera features a steady cam device.
  • Some parts of District 9 use shaky camera but to a natural and not nauseating effect.
  • Domino: The camerawork is incredibly jittery and disorienting. This became Tony Scott's signature style towards the end of his career.
  • Done in Elysium, this gif gives wonderful insight into the trope.
  • Feast
  • First Man surely cost tens of millions of dollars to make, but none of that money seems to have been spent on a tripod or decent SteadiCam rig: from beginning to end, the framing wanders around a little where one might expect it to hold steady.
  • Friday Night Lights: The shaky cam effect is employed throughout to give the sports film an immersive, documentary-like feel.
  • Some of the earlier Giallo films use this technique, such as Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling. By contrast, most of the later giallo films have very steady camerawork.
  • Hancock.
  • Justified in Hardcore Henry as the entire movie is shot from the perspective of Henry who's in near constant fights. So when he's in a fight against several enemies, the camera whips around a lot as Henry tries to keep track of everyone.
  • Home Movie
  • Hot Fuzz uses this technique excessively, to the point of parody.
  • The Hunger Games uses this throughout, primarily to prevent the violence from entering R-rated territory, and to heighten the emotional effect of certain scenes. There's also plenty of jitter cam used during the quiet talking scenes, to give the movie a "gritty" feel. Thanks to a new director, the sequel uses it with a lighter hand.
  • Totally overdone in a sequence in The Hunt for the Hidden Relic (original German title: Das Jesus Video) from 2002. The sequence is an in-universe video, recorded with a future Sony camcorder. The shaky camera effect is meant to show that the video was taken by an amateur, but is shaking so ridiculously hard that it's actually far beyond ridiculous. No jokes about cameramen suffering from Parkinson, please - the camera is shaking much too hard even for that. And don't even question why a future Sony camcorder will not have the same or even better image stabilization than an old one from 1995.
  • In the Cut: Jitter cam is used to heighten the sense of danger and paranoia in the city.
  • Some 75% of Les Misérables (2012), especially during the "Building a Barricade" scenes to heighten the chaotic feel (which is justified, because the actors were actually building a barricade in those scenes, and so the panic and chaos you see are very very real).
  • Lost in Translation: Shaky cam is used for Charlotte and Bob’s nights out in Tokyo.
  • A common criticism of Man of Steel's cinematography.
  • Man on Fire has a lot of it.
  • The Man Who Knew Infinity when the Zeppelin appears over Srinivasa Ramanujan's head in England during WWI.
  • More Than Ever's camera gets shaky during Hélène and Matthieu's hike, emphasizing both their fractious emotions towards each other and Hélène's poor physical state.
  • Paranormal Activity. Though since the camera is on a tripod or stable surface for 3/4 of the movie, it doesn't offend nearly as much as most other "found footage" films.
  • Path to 9/11 does it start to finish, even when characters are seated, socializing, and completely relaxed.
  • Public Enemies
  • Quantum of Solace uses shaky camera techniques heavily during the action scenes. Despite the fact that jitter cam was used only sparingly in its predecessor, Casino Royale (2006).
  • Rachel Getting Married combines this with a lot of long shots. Justified in that the movie is basically presented as home videos of the wedding in question and numerous characters are seen with camcorders.
  • [REC], as the entire film is shot with a handheld camera.
  • Save Yourselves!: The camera becomes shaky during some more intense and chaotic moments, such as Su and Jack's rush to gather supplies.
  • Saving Private Ryan is the Trope Codifier for the modern action sequence; many of the films listed here followed in its stead.
  • Schindler's List
  • Serbis
  • Silent House and its predecessor The Silent House uses it as part of their gimmick of the movies being one continuous shot.
  • Star Trek (2009), largely replacing the old "tilt the camera and make everyone fall down" trick, better known as Screen Shake.
  • Tetsuo: The Bullet Man's overall cinematograhy is criticized for this.
  • Used in the Transformers Film Series, which is generally a staple of Michael Bay. The first film had the camera mostly at ground level, showing how big the robots are and how chaotic it would be. Later movies tone it down somewhat, as more emphasis was put on robot vs. robot rather than the military vs. the bad robots.
  • 12 Rounds.
  • Used for effect twice in 2001: A Space Odyssey, during the Tycho monolith scene, and when Bowman gets a new helmet and proceeds to disconnect HAL. Kubrick did his own camera work for those scenes, lugging a huge 70mm film camera on his shoulder.
  • Matthew Vaughn uses a pretty stylized version of this throughout his action films. There's plenty of physical handheld camerawork, but other shakes are added in editing, resulting in unique cinematography that you can't really find from any other director.
  • The Wild Bunch is arguably the Trope Codifier - see the bank shootout scene and the final massacre scene, both of which use documentary-style shaky cam to give a sense of chaos and terror.
  • Yakuza Graveyard shoots the gunfights like this, to reflect the participants mindset: hysterically blasting away while bumping into each other in confined areas. In fact, most of Kinji Fukasaku's Yakuza and war films use this.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Extremely common in South Korean series (mainly thriller or horror series, but other genres have been known to use it too).
  • Beyond Evil
  • My Country: The New Age
  • Player
  • Awaken
  • Dark Hole
  • Priest (2018)
  • Mouse (2021)
  • Psychopath Diary
  • Strangers From Hell uses this to such an extent it'd be easier to list the times it isn't used.
  • Search uses this constantly, even during mundane scenes like a conversation between minor characters.
  • Came into wide TV use in the US with Hill Street Blues...
  • ...and in the UK with The Bill.
  • Later, NYPD Blue would use the technique heavily.
  • The Shield goes so far as to have twitchy zoom and focus; for actual action scenes, they go to a higher shutter speed.
  • Lost, particularly in the pilot, when the illusion of running through the jungle was created with actors running in place and filmed by a very shaky camera. However, the camera became less jittery as the series went on; later, this only came up when it made the most sense, such as action scenes.
  • 24
  • Firefly is notable for being the first show that simulated the jittercam effect in its CGI sequences.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): The use was actually called for by writer/producer Ronald D. Moore, in his manifesto on "naturalistic science-fiction". The idea was that while in conventional filmmaking, it is important never to draw attention to the camera in order to avoid breaking Suspension of Disbelief, CGI special effects shots tend to fall into a sort of Unintentional Uncanny Valley effect. The CGI shots in Battlestar Galactica were therefore shot using only camera placements and techniques that theoretically could have been used if the show were, in fact a documentary. It's not just the space scenes, either — even in dialog, the camera jiggles, although there isn't idiosyncratic zooming.
  • The Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters". Some later episodes are entirely filmed with jittercam — just look at "Let's Kill Hitler" for one example.
  • Most battle scenes in Band of Brothers.
  • The Office, both UK and US, since it's a Mockumentary
  • The 2006 Friday Night Lights series, continuing the tradition of the film.
  • Boston Legal
  • The X-Files: The episode "X-Cops", since the episode was presented as a show much like COPS (1989).
  • Kath & Kim (the original Australian version)
  • The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo
  • Medium
  • Law & Order
  • House, from about the third season on.
  • The Thick of It, especially in the first series.
  • A staple of British young-lawyers drama This Life.
  • Breaking Bad was filmed primarily with handheld cameras.
    • Better Call Saul primarily films with steadicams, though as the continuity gets closer to Breaking Bad, handheld cameras begin to be used with stronger frequency. This is best seen in season 5.
  • Power Rangers RPM makes use of this during the fight scenes. Thankfully the Ranger suits are so brightly coloured so you can just about tell what's going on.
  • Stargate Universe might as well be named Shakycam Universe. There is roughly 4 combined minutes of not shaking for a 45-or-so minute TV series.
  • NTSF:SD:SUV:: Justified since this show is a parody of police procedural shows.
  • Jeopardy (CBBC) has this with the group's video diaries.
  • The West Wing, in some episodes of season 4.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Touched", the trope is used to show the disorganization after Buffy is expelled as their leader. The camera gets locked down when Faith asserts her authority over the group.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): Very much in evidence in the Found Footage episode "Manifest Destiny".
  • Chernobyl: Not so much Jitter Cam as Insufficiently Steady Cam: the camera has a tendency to drift around a little bit when one might expect it to be fixed. One particularly notable example comes when Legasov and Khomyuk are having a conversation in a police cell. The cell wall is painted white above and green below, and the dividing line keeps on drifting in and out of the top of the frame.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the pilot episode's Action Prologue, this is used to show the panic and confusion of the crew of a starship as they Abandon Ship in a crammed Escape Pod, leading to a Mood Whiplash effect when the pod shoots free of the damaged spaceship and the camera is abruptly still.

    Music Videos 
  • A good early example: R.E.M.'s "Pretty Persuasion" video.
  • This trope became popular with music videos in the late '80s, used by everyone from Steve Winwood to Guns N' Roses.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The shows of Chigusa Nagayo's Marvelous promotion occasionally feature shaking as the camera tracks wrestlers. This is not a deliberate filming technique but a symptom of Marvelous's budget. It launched one of the cheapest streaming services on the market for this reason.

    Video Games 

    Web Videos 
  • Two reviews by Decker Shado regarding Found Footage Films (specifically, Tape 407 and The Blair Witch Project) make casual mention of how he considers this kind of filming style a pet peeve, mostly because even if the film has a good production quality otherwise for its genre (which he considers The Blair Witch Project to have), the impact is completely lost if you are easily afflicted with motion sickness.
  • At multiple points in Flicker (mostly when the characters are yelling) the animation gets very jittery.
  • lonelygirl15: Justified since, In-Universe, these are kids recording their experiences with camcorders.
  • Parodied in "Epic VFX Time":
    Harley: Well, this shot's boring! Too stationary. Let's get some camera-shake! [jittercam] Feels like you're really there. More camera-shake. [stronger jittercam] More camera-shake! [stronger jittercam) ...Too much camera-shake.
    Freddie: This isn't Bourne Identity! You ain't Matt Damon!
  • Bum Reviews used it to review The Hunger Games, listed above (complete with complaining that the IMAX makes it even more nauseating).
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Most of Episode 3 is shot in this style. Jane had lost her mobile and was freaking out because she thought she was stranded late at night in the middle of nowhere. She was walking and running, shooting an authentic entry for her fresh vlog.
  • Hallowed Worldly: Hallowed Worldly is both the cameraman and the main character in his primary series, so this is inevitable.
  • Averted for the most part in Truth in Journalism, as the cameraman is a professional who knows to avoid using this trope. However, justified during the climax; the cameraman is witnessing several Cruel and Unusual Deaths, and is quite rightfully freaking out.
  • Spoofed in Red vs. Blue, with a cameraman out of film school, but working for a reporter:
    Dylan: We can flee for our lives after we get the shot! I'm gonna draw their—what's wrong with your head? Are you hit?
    Jax (who is literally shaking his head around): Shakey cam! You know, for action scenes! Makes it look authentic!
    Dylan: We are ACTUALLY getting shot at!
    Jax: You're right, that technique is way played out.

    Western Animation 
  • The pilot for Moral Orel used this during dramatic moments, mainly when Bloberta was alone (not sure about the rest of the series).
  • Mocked in South Park when South Park is attacked by guinea pigs. Even when just walking around normally, Randy Marsch breathes heavily and shakes his camera around manically, going from his wife's face to his shoes and making a big show for dramatic effect until his wife tells him to knock it off.
  • Justice League used it frequently in fight scenes, most notably Superman vs. Captain Atom in "Flashpoint".
  • Duckman used it for almost the entirety of the Documentary Episode "American Dicks", as the episode is shown from the point of view of a cameraman filming Duckman's attempts to solve the eponymous Show Within a Show's 100th case.
  • Used lightly in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Firebending Masters" to emphasize the size and weight of the two dragons as they're circling.
  • Once the Eldritch Abomination begins invading Pibby's world in the trailer for Pibby, the framing begins to emulate a jittery handheld camera (including losing focus intermittently), contrasting with the more controlled blocking used during the previous scene and driving home just how alien the threat is to their child-friendly setting.

    Real Life 
  • Mocked in the opening video for the 2012 London Olympics, featuring Daniel Craig's James Bond. The Queen's corgis are shown running about... in the then newest Bond style of shaky-cam.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Shaky Cam



Bill eats and chokes on a piece of bologna, and then the camera shakes around excessively.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / JitterCam

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