Late last night, Honda sent out a tease of the upcoming 2023 Civic Type R. One photo and one video, accompanied by the one fact we’ve all been waiting for: A reveal date. But July 20 is so far away (ed. note: only 8 days), and I’m an impatient sort, so I took it upon myself to try and see the upcoming car early. Using specialized astrophotography software. I am not a crackpot.
See, Honda helped me out here. Towards the end of its teaser video, there’s a short clip of light panning over the front end of the new Type R. While that looks all cool and dramatic on camera, without giving you too much of a glimpse of the car, it’s also not far off from the method used in an actual photography technique: Light painting.
In light painting, you use long exposures with a moving light source to paint your subject with light (photographers are extremely creative with names). Of course, Honda released a YouTube video and not a single minute-long exposure in RAW format, but that’s still enough information to work with.
I took the video, saved it in the highest resolution I could manage, and used Photoshop to extract the relevant frames of light panning over the Honda’s hood. Then, my first thought was to go back to Photoshop — using an HDR combine to import every frame into one, perfect image.
Okay, maybe not perfect. The Photoshop attempt revealed a couple of key difficulties. First off, videos uploaded to YouTube are pretty heavily compressed — you lose a lot of detail in dark sections, as you’ll notice if you ever view a video that includes a dark gradient. Things get blocky and distorted, all to make sure the video loads smoothly on your internet connection.
The second issue is with how the video was filmed, rather than uploaded. As light is moving over the car, the camera is slowly backing away from the front bumper. Given the short duration of the clip, it’s unclear if it’s an actual pan or a zoom, but I suspect the latter — it seems like there’s the slightest distortion in the headlights across the clip due to a change in focal length. While that distortion isn’t really enough to cause an issue, the car’s changing scale within the frame has the potential to confuse image software.
So, if Photoshop wasn’t going to produce an image as clean as I wanted, what other software could possibly combine a single subject with multiple lighting conditions into one coherent picture? As it turns out, the answer lies in an entirely different photographic world: Astrophotography.
A friend of mine, fresh from a stargazing trip to Vermont, clued me into a piece of software called Startrails. It’s a free Windows program designed to do one thing: Make star trail images. Rather than working from a single long exposure, Startrails can combine multiple images, but keep the points of light from each one.
It certainly doesn’t have the most modern UI, and it doesn’t play nice with the PNG files I had pulled from the video using Photoshop, but quickly converting those over to JPG (admittedly at the cost of slightly more compression) let Startrails make short work of combining the frames. The result?
The front end of the Civic Type R, clear as it gets. While the fine details are a bit blurrier than the Photoshop method (you’ll notice the headlights have turned into a sort of trail of their own, thanks to the moving camera), the lighting is far more even across the front end. We can clearly pick out the massive hood vent, the creases along the sides, and the widened front fenders.
The red Honda badge and seats make a return, and it appears that the Civic’s upper grille is slightly taller than the Si’s. Also, this appears to be a right-hand-drive Type R, meaning it isn’t the same car we’ve seen testing. While we don’t get much of a sense of the front bumper, Honda conveniently released a press shot that can help us out.
We can see the same trapezoid lower grille here as the camouflaged prototype, as well as what might be a brake cooling duct towards the right, just inside the wide front fender. While we won’t know how the Civic looks as a whole until next week, these images tell us all we need to know about the front end: It looks good.