Best Planetary Camera 2024 (Including Solar & Lunar)

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best planetary camera

We analyzed 800+ images shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the past six years to find the Best Planetary Cameras.

Using this objective data as well as input from expert astrophotographers, we recommend here the best cameras being used to produce planetary, solar and lunar images with a telescope in 2024.

See the quick links below or read on to see our full results analysis.

Top Pick
Best Solar
Best Color
Budget Pick
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI178MM
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI174MM
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI178MC
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI224MC
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Color/Mono:
Color
Color/Mono:
Color
Resolution:
6.4MP
Resolution:
2.4MP
Resolution:
6.4MP
Resolution:
1.3MP
Frame Rate (full res.):
60fps
Frame Rate (full res.):
128fps
Frame Rate (full res.):
60fps
Frame Rate (full res.):
150fps
Max. Frame Rate:
479.7fps
Max. Frame Rate:
577fps
Max. Frame Rate:
479.7fps
Max. Frame Rate:
256.4fps
Read Noise:
2.2e
Read Noise:
6e
Read Noise:
2.2e
Read Noise:
2.2e
Quantum Efficiency:
81%
Quantum Efficiency:
77%
Quantum Efficiency:
81%
Quantum Efficiency:
80%
Pixel Size:
2.4µm
Pixel Size:
5.86µm
Pixel Size:
2.4µm
Pixel Size:
2.4µm
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Top Pick
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI178MM
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Resolution:
6.4MP
Frame Rate (full res.):
60fps
Max. Frame Rate:
479.7fps
Read Noise:
2.2e
Quantum Efficiency:
81%
Pixel Size:
2.4µm
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Best Solar
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI174MM
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Resolution:
2.4MP
Frame Rate (full res.):
128fps
Max. Frame Rate:
577fps
Read Noise:
6e
Quantum Efficiency:
77%
Pixel Size:
5.86µm
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Best Color
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI178MC
Color/Mono:
Color
Resolution:
6.4MP
Frame Rate (full res.):
60fps
Max. Frame Rate:
479.7fps
Read Noise:
2.2e
Quantum Efficiency:
81%
Pixel Size:
2.4µm
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Budget Pick
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI224MC
Color/Mono:
Color
Resolution:
1.3MP
Frame Rate (full res.):
150fps
Max. Frame Rate:
256.4fps
Read Noise:
2.2e
Quantum Efficiency:
80%
Pixel Size:
2.4µm
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled

Best Planetary Cameras (Data Analysis)

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest is the world’s most prestigious astrophotography competition.

Every year hundreds of images are shortlisted and details of what cameras were used to take the photo are shared which we can examine.

We went through the results from the last six years (2018-2023), examining 828 images in total.

Of these, there have been a total of 229 planetary images shortlisted to look at, including planetary, lunar, and solar.

From this data, we can see that ZWO is by far the most successful brand for planetary cameras with 69% of all shortlisted planetary images using their models:

Planetary Cameras by Brand Used In Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Best Planetary Camera Models

In this chart, you can see the list of the most successfully used camera models for planetary imaging in the competition. This includes solar and lunar imaging:

Planetary Camera Models in Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

We will now dig into these top planetary cameras to examine their pros and cons.

ZWO ASI174MM

Our results show that the ZWO ASI174MM is the top camera. This model particularly excels for solar and lunar imaging, which is why this is our recommendation for that.

It has all the attributes of a great planetary camera:

  1. Fast frame rate (164fps at full resolution)
  2. Modest resolution (2.3-megapixels)
  3. USB 3.0 connection

The modest resolution and USB 3.0 connection are important because with planetary imaging you will take lots of short-exposure images and you need your laptop/computer to handle the volume of data.

It is relatively cheap (compared to high-resolution, cooled cameras for deep sky imaging) and this contributes to its popularity.

Solar image taken with a ZWO ASI174MM (Credit: Lucas Gatsas)

The FLIR Grasshopper3 is the only non-ZWO camera in the above list. It is a very simlar camera to the ZWO ASI174MM and uses the same Sony IMX174 sensor.

Key specifications of the ZWO ASI174MM:

  • Type: CMOS
  • Color/Mono: Monochrome
  • Cooled/Uncooled: Uncooled
  • Resolution: 2.3MP
  • Frame Rate: 164fps (full resolution)
  • Quantum Efficiency: 77%
  • Pixel Size: 5.86 microns
  • USB: USB 3.0
Best for Solar & Lunar Imaging
ZWO ASI174MM
4.7

2.3 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera

Pros:
  • Capture high-resolution monochrome images of the Moon, Sun, planets, and some deep-sky objects
  • Advanced CMOS sensor with 1936 x 1216 (2.35MP) resolution
  • Fast USB 3.0 transfer at up to 164 frames per second at maximum resolution, with higher data transfer rates at lower resolution
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ZWO ASI178MM

Second in our list is the ZWO ASI290MM but this has been discontinued, the ZWO ASI178MM comes next and is our top pick for best planetary camera based on these findings.

It has a higher resolution (6.4MP) and slower full resolution frame rate (60 fps) and smaller pixel size (2.4 microns). This means it occupies something of a middle-ground – and can be used both for planetary imaging for deep sky.

It is fairly inexpensive, making it a great budget all-rounder.

Key specifications of the ZWO ASI178MM:

  • Type: CMOS
  • Color/Mono: Monochrome
  • Cooled/Uncooled: Uncooled
  • Resolution: 6.4MP
  • Frame Rate: 60fps (full resolution)
  • Quantum Efficiency: 81%
  • Pixel Size: 2.4 microns
  • USB: USB 3.0
Top Pick for Planetary Imaging
ZWO ASI178MM
5.0

Advanced monochrome astronomy camera with back illuminated 6.4 megapixel CMOS sensor with 3096x2080 resolution, 2.4 μm pixels, and 8.92 mm diagonal size.

Pros:
  • Ideal for capturing high-resolution astronomical images with excellent contrast as a result of superior resolution of 14-bit ADC
  • Advanced Sony IMX178 sensor with Exmor R technology for high-speed processing, low noise, and low power dissipation with back illuminated sensors
  • Fast USB 3.0 transfer at up to 60 fps at maximum 3096x2080 resolution and 253 fps at 640x480;
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ZWO ASI178MC

The above models are all monochrome cameras. The advantage of these is that they can capture more detail in their images, but the downside is that to produce a full color photo you need to take multiple images using different filters and then combine them in post-processing.

This has the potential for better imaging results but is more work and complexity, as well as cost due to the additional filters and filter wheel that need to be used.

Color planetary cameras, on the other hand, can capture a full color image in one shot without the need to use external filters. They are therefore much easier to work with.

Then two color ZWO models complete the list- the ZWO ASI120MC-S (also discontinued) and the ZWO ASI178MC. Therefore this model is our top recommendation for those wanting a color camera.

zwo asi224mc planetary images
Planetary images taken with the ZWO ASI178MC (Credit: near_miya)

Key specifications of the ZWO ASI178MC:

  • Type: CMOS
  • Color/Mono: Color
  • Cooled/Uncooled: Uncooled
  • Resolution: 6.4MP
  • Frame Rate: 60fps (full resolution)
  • Quantum Efficiency: 81%
  • Pixel Size: 2.4 microns
  • USB: USB 3.0
Best Color Planetary Camera
ZWO ASI178MC
5.0

6.4 MP CMOS Color Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0

Pros:
  • Advanced 7.4mm x 5.0mm CMOS sensor with 3096x2080 (6.4 megapixel) resolution to capture fine detail in astronomical objects
  • Fast USB3.0 transfer at up to 60 frames per second at maximum resolution, with higher data transfer rates at lower resolution
  • Compact, lightweight, and attractive red anodized CNC aluminum body stands up to heavy field use
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ZWO ASI224MC

Finally, although it does not feature in our findings, we also recommend the ZWO ASI224MC as it is a great budget color planetary camera with an extremely high capture rate.

It is extremely affordable and so makes a great planetary camera for beginners.

Image of Jupiter taken with the ZWO ASI224MC (Credit: astro_davido)

Key specifications of the ZWO ASI224MC:

  • Type: CMOS
  • Color/Mono: Color
  • Cooled/Uncooled: Uncooled
  • Resolution: 1.2MP
  • Frame Rate: 150fps (full resolution)
  • Quantum Efficiency: 75-80%
  • Pixel Size: 3.75 microns
  • USB: USB 3.0
Budget Pick
ZWO ASI224MC
4.5

1.2 MP CMOS Color Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0

Pros:
  • Produces single-shot color images without the need for a filter wheel and color filters
  • Ideal for capturing high-contrast and high-resolution color astronomical images of solar system objects and smaller deep-sky objects
  • Fast USB 3.0 transfer at up to 150 fps at maximum 1304x976 resolution and 299 fps at 640x480
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How Do I Choose a Planetary Camera?

What you need in a dedicated planetary camera is a fast frame rate, plus a modest resolution and USB 3.0 connection so that the data transfer to your laptop/computer can handle the volume of frames being taken.

This is the key difference with deep sky cameras that take fewer, longer exposures at higher resolutions, and need cooling to reduce noise.

To choose a planetary camera:

  1. You could use what you already have even if it is not the ideal planetary camera. For example, you can even use a DSLR or mirrorless camera if you have one.
  2. You can use our findings to see what cameras are being successfully used by the best astrophotographers today
  3. You can use tools like this field of view calculator to input your telescope and prospective camera to see what images you could expect
How Do I Choose a Planetary Camera?
Jupiter with a Celestron C11 and ZWO ASI174MM

Another thing to factor in is the other gear that you will be using. In particular, your telescope’s focal ratio and whether you will use a barlow lens.

There is a recommended formula for this:

  • Barlow magnification x telescope focal ratio / 6 = approximate ideal camera pixel size

Therefore:

  • A 3X barlow lens with a Celestron C11 F/10 OTA = 30. Divided by 6 = 5. Therefore a camera with around 5 microns pixel size is right. The ZWO ASI174MM would then be a good fit.

Since the most successful planetary telescopes are Celestron SCTs (see below) and these have F/10 focal ratios you can also work out what camera pixel size and barlow combination is right for you. For example:

  • F/10 OTA with 2X Barlow = 3.3 microns
  • F/10 OTA with 3X Barlow = 5 microns
  • F/10 OTA with 4X Barlow = 6.7 microns
  • F/10 OTA with 5X Barlow = 8.3 microns

These calculations should be taken as just a rough guide, as other things like the seeing conditions in your area are also a factor.

Other key characteristics to look for in a planetary camera are a high frame rate and fast USB 3.0 data transfer. Color vs monochrome is a choice: color is easiest, but monochrome has higher potential. With monochrome cameras, you need to use filters to take multiple captures to compose a color image.


Best Planetary Cameras FAQs

What is the fastest planetary camera?

The fastest planetary camera is the ZWO ASI224MC with frame rate of 150fps up to a maximum of 256.4fps at the lowest resolution.

What is the best ZWO planetary camera 2024?

The best ZWO planetary camera in 2024 is the ZWO ASI178MM.

See our ZWO Camera Comparison to specifically compare ZWO models for all types of astrophotography.

What telescopes are used for planetary imaging?

Our results show that planetary imaging is most commonly done with telescopes from Celestron and Sky-Watcher. With, in particular, Celestron’s Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (SCTs) excelling for planetary imaging.

For more insight, see this article: Best Telescopes For Planetary Imaging

What telescope mounts are used for planetary imaging?

Our results show that planetary imaging is most commonly done with telescope mounts from Celestron and Sky-Watcher. The most successful model is the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro.

For more on this, see our article on the Best Astrophotography Mounts.


Verdict: Best Planetary Imaging Camera

Overall, based on our findings, we recommend the best planetary cameras to be:

  1. ZWO ASI178MM – top pick for best planetary imaging camera
  2. ZWO ASI174MM – best planetary camera for lunar and solar imaging
  3. ZWO ASI178MC – highest resolution color planetary camera
  4. ZWO ASI224MC – best planetary camera for beginners

All this should be considered alongside what telescope you will be using to get the best results.

Do you agree with our recommendations? Let us know if you have any comments or questions on our findings in the comments below.

About the Author

Anthony Robinson is the founder and owner of Skies & Scopes, a publication and community focused on amateur astronomy and astrophotography. His work has been featured in publications such as Amateur Astrophotography, Forbes, the Guardian, DIY Photography, PetaPixel, and Digital Camera World - read more.

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