We review the most popular photo mode in gaming today - Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn - Photo Mode Review
- Great camera features, editing features and flexibility
- Time of Day mode adds another arrow to your photo taking quiver
- High quality textures and zoom capability
- Many poses and facial expressions for Aloy
- Not a lot of special features
- Can sometimes be a nuisance to get the camera in the right place
- No quick button press to get to the Photo Mode UI
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode is amazing, and has been at the fore front of game photography since the game was released. In this article, Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode is reviewed against our criteria, which was developed based mainly on camera reviews, and a little bit of game reviews sprinkled on top.
Submit your own Horizon: Zero Dawn Photo Mode Review in the comments section below!
User interface & Ease of use
To get to Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode user interface, click Options on the controller, then select Photo Mode. This is a little bit more difficult than some other games, where there has been an option to use a button combination to get to Photo Mode, but going through the menu works well enough.
The user interface is intuitive and easy to use. It consists of a menu panel in the bottom right corner and additional options along the bottom of the screen. There are options along the top of the menu panel which can be toggled through with L1 and R1. There are six categories, and although they aren’t named, I am going to name them so that I can use the names in the rest of the article:
- Depth of Field
- Time of Day
- Borders and Logos
Under each of these categories there is a set of slider options and toggles. The option locations all broadly make sense, and there hasn’t been a time (yet!) where an option has been ‘lost’ when creating an image.
There are also extra options listed at the bottom of the screen:
- Toggle Look At
- Toggle Grid
- Crane (down and up)
- Hide UI
These options are less conspicuous, as your main focus is on the menu panel, and are often forgotten about or come as an afterthought. Having these options available is great, but maybe toggles could have been added into the main UIs as well, as that is where your focus is.
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode has a range of ‘filters’ available via the Colorize option under the Brightness category. Intensity can also be chosen, which sets how intense the Colorize overlay is on the image.
The Colorize options include:
- Black and White (two versions)
- Low Contrast Black and White
- Pale Blue
- Warm Glow
- Cross process (3 versions)
This is a good coverage and provides a multitude of options on filters.
All of these ‘filters’ only change the colours of the image, so some image manipulation filters would be a welcome addition. For example, if you could add some random artefacts to the Vintage option to make it look like an 1800’s photo, add in some film grain (which I really liked in Uncharted) or maybe change the lens to something like a fish eye lens.
Vignette is available in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode under its own Vignette section. It has options to change size and intensity of the Vignette effect, which gives the photographer a lot of variation in the way the image can be presented. This is an oft utilised feature in many images seen from Horizon: Zero Dawn.
The only improvement that could be made is the intensity setting could be stronger. Sometimes in really bright settings the Vignette effect is barely visible. This could be intentional though, and is more of a personal preference, so no points deducted!
Borders and Logos
A variety of borders and logos are available in the Borders category of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode, plus a Greetings option that changes depending on the time of day and the weather!
Some of the borders available are:
- Instant Wide
- Black Frame
- White Frame
- Pattern 1 (has a ring of icons around the image. I wonder what pattern 2 will be…?)
The logo placement is very flexible, and can be added pretty much anywhere around the border.
The border choices in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode are more than enough to frame your image in the best light. The only small draw back is that there isn’t a way to change the size of the borders. This can be overcome by moving the camera or changing the field of view, so no points deducted for this!
Colour Balance and Correction
Colour balance is effectively achieved through the ‘Colorize’ Option I spoke about it earlier (see Filters above). By choosing the different ‘Colorize’ options and intensity, you can balance the colours fairly effectively.
It would be great to have the options to change the red, green and blue channels, and maybe the white balance, to give a bit more flexibility, but you can do a pretty good job as is.
Camera Distance and Correction
There are multiple options, techniques, and toggles in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode to help you manipulate the camera and achieve some camera corrections.
With the control sticks you can move along the X axis and aim the camera along the Y axis, and even get a little bit of movement along the Y axis too. This is intuitive and allows the camera to be manoeuvred into the right position. Most of the time.
There are times when moving the camera like this can feel restrictive. The video below shows some of the struggle points like moving around the rock and the ropes.
This isn’t a major issue and can usually be overcome, it’s just a little bit of a nuisance!
Another option is ‘Crane’, where L2 and R2 can be used to move the camera down and up respectively. Combine this with the ‘Field of View’ feature (coming up next in Zoom) and you can get anywhere from an inch of Aloy to roughly 20 meters away. Below is an image that is as far as I could get from Aloy.
There aren’t really any options for camera correction, but you can kind of work around it with the crane option. As you can see below, we are getting some perspective distortion on the pillars. This can be corrected with the crane option to a degree (and I haven’t got it quite right below…). Not ideal, but it can work.
Zoom is accomplished in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode by changing the ‘Field of View’.
See below zoomed out shot (field of view at max) and then zoomed in shot (field of view at min).
The ‘Field of View’ option works really well as a zoom function. Even more impressive is that as the image is zoomed in the game adjusts the definition and the textures in the shot. Amazing!
The ‘Field of View option is great for zooming in, but could be taken a bit further for the zoom out. There are times when more of the area could be captured or something more could come into the shot, but the Field of View wont zoom out far enough.
Full marks here!
The Over Exposure option is under the Brightness category. This is an extremely useful tool when capturing images in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode. On it’s own it’s very powerful, and can change the look and feel of an image, but when you combine it with some of the other features (i.e. Colorize and Intensity) it gives so much more flexibility when capturing your image.
The camera in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode gives a fairly broad dynamic range, so there are rarely parts of the image fully blacked out because of shadow or colour sapped because of too much light. Using the Over Exposure option seems to be the best way to choose what dynamic range to capture. But, there are times when you have to make a choice about what you will capture. For example, in the below images you can choose between having the blue skyline, or the green of the tree.
Having a HDR option would help with this!
The image quality in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode differs with different versions of the PlayStation. Screen Captures on PS4 are in 1080p resolution, and PS4 pro are in 4K resolution.
The textures also look as though they are more detailed when Photo Mode is entered. Also, when you zoom in on your subject the textures update to show more detail. Changing textures works better on some subjects than others. Below are some images of a tree, Aloy and a machine to compare the textures.
There isn’t an ISO option in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode. What there is kind of instead is a Brightness option.
In RL photography you are always battling between getting the best image quality (low ISO), brightness in the image and the right amount of motion blur (which can be set with shutter speed). In HZD Photo mode, there is no need for those options to compete, as every image will be the same quality and there is never any motion blur.
Is this a good or bad thing? Good in some ways (less can go wrong in your image) but bad in others (less flexible).
Anyway, the brightness option can be used to change the brightness of an image captured in lieu of ISO.
f/stop range and Aperture
The ‘Depth of Field’ category in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode can be toggled on and off, which then allows the Aperture to be set an an f/stop range.
Set the Focus Distance option and the Aperture measured in an f/stop range. This gives you a lot of control of where the focus is for your image.
If you move the Aperture down to the lowest setting, then change the focus distance, you will see the focus sweeping across the screen. This will give you a good feel for what you can focus on, then back off on the setting to put more of the image in focus.
What could be awesome is if you could pick a single point on the image as the point of focus, instead of having a focus distance. This would help put the focus on that particular point instead of having a line of focus across the screen.
Camera Roll and Tilt
The ‘View Roll’ option in the Camera category lets you roll the camera around until you have the perspective you want (similar to rotating your camera in RL). This feature works well and allows you to take portrait shots and do a bit of perspective correction.
A much needed addition would be to choose to keep your perspective (i.e. keep the image up and down or not move the Y axis) when changing the roll of the camera. There would be a lot less change of sustaining a neck injury when tilting your head sideways trying to take a portrait shot!
There isn’t really a focus option in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode. You can do a few things to force subjects to come in and out of focus with the Focus Distance option in Depth of Field category, and also by playing around with the Field of View option in the Camera category.
The game has a very slight artistic feel to it, so the photos taken will reflect that effect.
There are a few instances where realism comes to the fore though. A few examples of this are the night sky, the mountains, extreme close ups of people and machines, and barren landscapes like deserts and frozen wilderness.
Also, there are probably a lot of instances where the developers have used random generators (for example the trees all look different, the grass always at different lengths and angles) and other realism tricks throughout the game that are seamless to the gamer.
Hide player/s, Enemies and NPCs
You can hide Aloy, but not enemies or NPCS. This usually isn’t too much of a problem, as you can wait until the enemies or NPCs have moved. Or you can vanquish the metal beasts in glorious battle!
Change face expression and pose
Yes! There are many different facial expressions and poses available for Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode. This seems to be something that Guerrilla will be investing in more, as they have added poses and face expressions as part of the Frozen Wilds.
Adjust the time of day
Yes! This is one of the most powerful options in Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode. I change this with pretty much every photo I take. This is not moving forward or backward in events unfolding in the game though, so clouds will not move nor rivers flow by adjusting the time of day.
Special Features that are not available (or marked)
Move forward / backward frame by frame
Adjusting the time of day is a step in the right direction, but there have been times when it would have been great to step forward or backwards frame by frame (i.e. when fighting a machine).
Take 360 degree, time lapse and / or Panorama
Unfortunately none of these are available. 360 photos would be super cool, and could be a bridge between virtual reality and real life.
As for taking a Panorama, Field of View gives you a lot of flexibility in getting the widest view possible, but it isn’t a panorama.
Also, it would be super cool to create a time laps of the stars.
Take a video
Unfortunately not really available. You can make a video with normal PS4 video capture, but there is no easy way to turn off the HUD or to adjust the video settings.
Change environment (add / remove things like smoke, mist, dust, lens flare, haze, blur, etc.)
There are lens flares, mist, dust, haze, all sorts of environmental effects going on in HZD, but there is no way to change this other than waiting for the right moment. Would it be cheating a little bit if this was an option? Maybe.
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode is, as I said at the beginning, AMAZING. It is good for beginners and experts alike, and the developers keep on supporting the game photography community.
If you are interested in getting into game photography, Horizon Zero Dawn is a MUST!
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