Best ZWO Planetary and DSO Cameras (2023 Comparison)

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We analyzed 685 images shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the past five years to find the Best ZWO Planetary and Deep-Sky cameras.

From our data, we found that the ZWO ASI174MM is the best ZWO planetary camera:

Best ZWO planetary camera
ZWO ASI174MM

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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It is an uncooled, monochrome CMOS camera with a 2.3MP resolution and a fast frame rate of 164 fps at full resolution that is tailored for planetary, lunar, and solar imaging.

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.

Our results show that this camera delivers for planetary imaging and is relatively cheap.

We also found that the ZWO ASI160MM Pro is the best ZWO deep-sky camera:

Best ZWO deep-sky camera
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro

16 MP Cooled CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera

Pros:
  • Capture high-resolution images of deep-sky objects such as nebulae, supernova remnants, galaxies, and the Moon and Sun
  • Advanced CMOS sensor with 4656 x 3520 (16MP) resolution and 3.8-micron pixel size
  • High quantum efficiency to help reduce exposure time
  • Integrated TEC cooling reduces sensor temperature to 35C below ambient to enable low-noise imaging of fainter deep-sky objects
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It is a cooled, monochrome CMOS camera with a 16MP resolution and a frame rate of 23 fps.

Deep sky cameras need a higher resolution for more image detail, but a slower frame rate since they will use less numerous but longer exposures. The cooling reduces noise.

Read on to see our full results analysis, to understand more about the differences between ZWO camera models, and how to choose what is right for you.

Preview
Best Planetary
ZWO ASI174MM 2.3 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0# ASI174MM
Best Deep Sky
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro 16 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0 # ASI1600MM-P
Budget Planetary
ZWO ASI-290MM (Mono) USB 3.0 Astronomy Camera
Budget Color
ZWO ASI178MC 6.4 MP CMOS Color Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0 # ASI178MC
Make & Model
ZWO ASI174MM
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro
ZWO ASI290MM
ZWO ASI178MC
Resolution
2.3MP
16MP
2.1MP
6.4MP
Color/Mono
Monochrome
Monochrome
Monochrome
Color
Cooled/Uncooled
Uncooled
Cooled
Uncooled
Uncooled
Best Planetary
Preview
ZWO ASI174MM 2.3 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0# ASI174MM
Make & Model
ZWO ASI174MM
Resolution
2.3MP
Color/Mono
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled
Uncooled
Check Prices
Best Deep Sky
Preview
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro 16 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0 # ASI1600MM-P
Make & Model
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro
Resolution
16MP
Color/Mono
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled
Cooled
Check Prices
Budget Planetary
Preview
ZWO ASI-290MM (Mono) USB 3.0 Astronomy Camera
Make & Model
ZWO ASI290MM
Resolution
2.1MP
Color/Mono
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled
Uncooled
Check Prices
Budget Color
Preview
ZWO ASI178MC 6.4 MP CMOS Color Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0 # ASI178MC
Make & Model
ZWO ASI178MC
Resolution
6.4MP
Color/Mono
Color
Cooled/Uncooled
Uncooled
Check Prices

Last update on 2023-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Best ZWO Cameras

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest is the world’s leading astrophotography competition. Each year hundreds of images are shortlisted along with details of how the picture was captured, including the camera used.

In the past three years, there have been a total of 685 images shortlisted, and from these 304 used dedicated CCD or CMOS astronomy cameras.

From this data, we can see that ZWO is by far the most successful dedicated astronomy camera brand:

zwo cameras

144 shortlisted images (47.4%) using dedicated CCD/CMOS astronomy cameras used ZWO models.

Now let’s look at the most successful individual models.

In this chart, you can see all the ZWO cameras that have been used in shortlisted images for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the past five years:

best zwo cameras
(Percentage of all images using ZWO cameras)

But now we can split this data so that we can see the best ZWO cameras for planetary imaging, and then for deep sky imaging.

Best ZWO Planetary Camera

So firstly, ZWO planetary imaging cameras:

best ZWO planetary cameras

We can see that the ZWO ASI174MM is the top ZWO camera for planetary imaging:

ZWO ASI174MM 2.3 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0# ASI174MM
ZWO ASI174MM

It is an uncooled, monochrome CMOS camera with a 2.3MP resolution and a fast frame rate of 164 fps at full resolution.

The next most successful models are the:

These cameras are both relatively cheap and so make great options for beginners.

Best ZWO DSO Camera

Next, we can look at the ZWO cameras used for imaging deep-sky objects:

best zwo dso cameras

We see that the ASI1600MM Pro is by far the most successful ZWO deep-sky camera:

ZWO ASI1600MM Pro 16 MP CMOS Monochrome Astronomy Camera with USB 3.0 # ASI1600MM-P
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro

It is a cooled, monochrome CMOS camera with a 16MP resolution and a frame rate of 23 fps.

The second most successful ZWO deep-sky camera is the ZWO ASI6200MM Pro.

This is also a cooled, monochrome model but with an extremely high 64MP resolution.

You may have noted the key differences between what make the best planetary and deep-sky cameras:

  1. Planetary cameras should have a fast frame rate for lucky imaging and lower resolution for fast data transfer.
  2. Deep sky cameras need higher resolution for more image detail, but have a slower frame rate since they will be used for longer exposures. They also need cooling to reduce noise.

ASI1600MM Pro vs ASI2600MM Pro

We can see that the ASI1600MM Pro is one of the best ZWO cameras for deep sky imaging, but in 2021 the ASI2600MM Pro was released as an upgrade to the ASI1600MM Pro.

The newer model has:

  1. A much higher resolution 26MP sensor with a pixel array of 6248×4176
  2. Back-illumination which reduces noise and amp glow in images
  3. A built-in dew heater
  4. Increased bit depth
  5. Increased full well depth (50ke)
  6. Increased quantum efficiency (91%)

Essentially the ASI2600MM Pro is a better DSO imaging camera than the ASI1600MM Pro, however, it is heavier and significantly more expensive.

Therefore for most people, it will likely come down to budget as to which one to go for.

It should also be noted though that its higher resolution and lower frame rate do not make it ideal for lunar or solar imaging and there are better (and cheaper) cameras for this, like the ASI174MM.

You can watch a video that discusses this comparison here:


FAQs: ZWO Camera Comparison

What do the names of ZWO camera models mean?

The naming convention of ZWO cameras is as follows:

  • ZWO is the company name
  • ASI is the name of the model range
  • The number indicates either the resolution (e.g. ASI1600MM Pro = 16MP resolution) or the sensor name (e.g. ASI174MM = Sony IMX174 sensor)
  • MM means monochrome / MC means color
  • Pro indicates that it is cooled
  • GT indicates a built-in filter wheel (and is cooled)

Therefore:

  • ASI174MM = uncooled CMOS monochrome camera with a Sony IMX174 sensor.
  • ASI1600MM Pro = cooled CMOS monochrome camera with 16MP resolution
  • ASI1600MM GT = cooled CMOS monochrome camera with a built-in filter wheel

How many different ZWO camera models are there?

There are currently 35 different ZWO camera models available (with the year of release in brackets):

  1. ASI120MC-S (2014)
  2. ASI120MM-S (2014)
  3. ASI174MM (2015)
  4. ASI178MC (2015)
  5. ASI178MM (2015)
  6. ASI290MM (2015)
  7. ASI224MC (2015)
  8. ASI071MC Pro (2016)
  9. ASI1600MM (2016)
  10. ASI1600MM Pro (2016)
  11. ASI294MC Pro (2017)
  12. ASI183MC Pro (2017)
  13. ASI183MM Pro (2017)
  14. ASI183MC (2017)
  15. ASI183MM (2017)
  16. ASI174MM Mini (2017)
  17. ASI385MC (2017)
  18. ASI290MM Mini (2017)
  19. ASI120MM-MINI (2017)
  20. ASI533MC Pro (2019)
  21. ASI183GT (2019)
  22. ASI1600GT (2019)
  23. ASI2600MC Pro (2019)
  24. ASI6200MM Pro (2019)
  25. ASI6200MC Pro (2019)
  26. ASI2400MC Pro (2020)
  27. ASI462MC (2020)
  28. ASI294MM Pro (2020)
  29. ASI2600MM Pro (2020)
  30. ASI482MC (2021)
  31. ASI485MC (2021)
  32. ASI432MM (2022)
  33. ASI585MC (2022)
  34. ASI662MC (2022)
  35. ASI678MC (2022)

Color vs Monochrome ZWO Cameras?

There are a few things to know if considering whether to get a color or mono ZWO camera:

  • Color cameras give you a full-color image in a single exposure. However, the in-built filtering limits the capacity of the camera’s sensor, resulting in less data captured.
  • Monochrome cameras use the full capacity of the sensor to capture light but they need additional filters to create color images. This is more work and costs more to buy the additional components, including a filter wheel.

Using a monochrome camera is more difficult and expensive, but has a much higher potential for producing images.

Color cameras are much quicker and simpler, but the images produced will be more limited. This can be perfect for beginners though who are looking to do their first imaging with a dedicated astronomy camera.

What telescopes are used with ZWO cameras?

Our results show that planetary imaging with ZWO cameras is most commonly done with telescopes from:

The most successful models are Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain OTAs – see the full data in the Best Telescopes For Planetary Imaging.

For deep sky imaging with ZWO cameras, we see the most successful telescope brands to be:

  • Takahashi (32%)
  • Celestron (23%)
  • Sky-Watcher (18%)

To see the most successful models, go to the Best Telescopes for Deep Space Astrophotography and the Best Telescopes for Astrophotography.

Where are ZWO cameras made?

ZWO are based in China. Specifically the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province.

Where can I get ZWO camera drivers?

All drivers for ZWO cameras can be downloaded from the ZWO website.

ZWO vs QHY?

Our results indicate that ZWO outperforms all other manufacturers of CCD and CMOS cameras.

However, these results should take into context price and availability, since a budget ZWO camera of a few hundred dollars will likely not be “better” than a premium QHY CCD model of a few thousand dollars, but a lot more people will own the ZWO model and so there will be more images produced with that camera.

What’s the best ZWO camera for EAA?

The ASI178MC is the best ZWO camera for EAA (Electronically Assisted Astronomy).

This is because:

  1. It is color
  2. Has a fast frame rate
  3. Is relatively cheap

If you want to read more about this, see our guide to Electronically Assisted Astronomy.

What are the other good astronomy cameras?

If you want to consider more than just ZWO cameras, then see our articles:

If you want to find out about DSLR and mirrorless cameras for astrophotography, then see the Best DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras for Astrophotography.


Conclusion: Best ZWO Cameras

Overall, based on our findings we recommend for ZWO planetary cameras:

For ZWO DSO cameras, we recommend:

Please let us know if you have any comments or questions in the comments below.

Anthony Robinson founded Skies & Scopes in 2017 and has been practicing and writing obsessively about astrophotography and astronomy ever since. He has written for Amateur Astrophotography and Dark Sky Travels magazines. Skies & Scopes has also been featured in Forbes, Digital Camera World, Peta Pixel, and many other publications.

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