ZWO Camera Comparison (Best for Planetary and DSO in 2024)

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best zwo camera

We analyzed 828 images shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition to provide a ZWO camera comparison.

Using this objective data we are able to recommend the best ZWO camera for planetary and the best ZWO camera for DSO.

See the table below or read on for more analysis.

Best Planetary
Best Solar
Best Deep Sky
Premium DSO
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI224MC
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI174MM
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI2600MM Pro
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI6200MM Pro
Resolution:
1.3MP
Resolution:
2.3MP
Resolution:
26MP
Resolution:
62MP
Color/Mono:
Color
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Cooled/Uncooled:
Cooled
Cooled/Uncooled:
Cooled
Best Planetary
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI224MC
Resolution:
1.3MP
Color/Mono:
Color
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Best Solar
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI174MM
Resolution:
2.3MP
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled:
Uncooled
Best Deep Sky
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI2600MM Pro
Resolution:
26MP
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled:
Cooled
Premium DSO
Make & Model:
ZWO ASI6200MM Pro
Resolution:
62MP
Color/Mono:
Monochrome
Cooled/Uncooled:
Cooled

ZWO Camera Comparison Data

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 828 images shortlisted, and from these 381 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 Camera Comparison
Dedicated Astronomy Cameras by manufacturer in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

Now let’s look at the ZWO camera models used.

This chart shows all the ZWO cameras used in 186 shortlisted images for the competition in the past six years:

best zwo camera
ZWO cameras used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

Since this features several older models, we also want to examine the more recent data and so here you can see the ZWO cameras most frequently (and successfully) used in the past two years:

best zwo cameras 2023
ZWO cameras used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022-2023

This data incorporates both planetry and deep-sky imaging but these require different camera traits:

  1. Planetary cameras need a fast frame rate for lucky imaging and a 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.

Therefore we can split this data to see the best ZWO cameras for planetary imaging, and then for deep-sky imaging.


zwo asi174mm solar image
Solar image taken with a ZWO ASI174MM (Credit: Rob Lyons)

Best ZWO Planetary Cameras

So firstly, ZWO planetary imaging cameras:

best zwo planetary camera
ZWO cameras used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

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

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

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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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.

The next most successful models are the ZWO ASI290MM (discontinued) and ZWO ASI178MM.

This data includes solar, lunar and planetary, but we can break this up to see which models come out top separately:

Planetary images taken with a ZWO ASI224MC (Credit: gwen.blanck)

The ZWO ASI224MC is possibly the best budget ZWO camera and ZWO calls it “a great choice for new beginners to step into planetary imaging” (see here).

Color cameras are generally recommended for planetary imaging as there is no need to use a monochrome camera with filters like you would with solar and deep sky imaging.

Best ZWO for Planetary Imaging
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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Deep-Sky image taken with a ZWO ASI2600MM Pro (Credit: Yungshih Lee)

Best ZWO DSO Camera

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

best zwo dso cameras
ZWO cameras used in DSO images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

We see that the ZWO ASI1600MM Pro is the most successful ZWO deep-sky camera but this model was discontinued and replaced by the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro.

In the chart further up, we can also see that this camera was the most successfully used of any ZWO model in the past two years.

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro is a cooled, monochrome CMOS camera with a 26MP resolution and a frame rate of 3.5 fps.

Its upgrades from the very popular ZWO ASI1600MM Pro include:

  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%)

This is therefore our recommendation for the best ZWO camera for DSO.

Best Deep Sky Camera
ZWO ASI2600MM Pro
5.0

26 Megapixel Cooled Monochrome Astronomy Camera

Pros:
  • High 6248 x 4176 (26 MP) resolution
  • Cooled for long exposures of deep sky objects
  • Ultra-low 1.0e readout noise
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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.

The next 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. This is the premium option.

Premium Pick - Best ZWO DSO Camera
ZWO ASI6200MM Pro
5.0

Full Frame CMOS Monochrome Cooled Astronomy Camera

Pros:
  • One of the best dedicated astronomy cameras on the market
  • 62-megapixel high-resolution monochrome full frame sensor
  • 91% quantum efficiency with 16-bit ADC
  • Ultra-low 1.5e read noise and 51,400e full well capacity
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zwo asi6200mm pro dso image
Deep-Sky image taken with a ZWO ASI6200MM Pro (Credit: Nick Fritz)

ZWO Cameras Comparison – All Models

How to Compare ZWO Cameras

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)
  • Mini indicates that it is primarily a guide camera

Therefore:

  • ASI174MM = uncooled CMOS monochrome camera with a Sony IMX174 sensor.
  • ASI2600MM Pro = cooled CMOS monochrome camera with 26MP resolution
  • ASI183MM GT = cooled CMOS monochrome camera with a built-in filter wheel

ZWO ASI Cameras Comparison Chart

There are currently 28 different ZWO camera models available.

You can compare key specifications in this chart:

ModelYearMPFPSPixel SizeQERead NoiseFull Well
ASI071MC Pro201616104.78µm50%2.3 – 3.3e46000e
ASI294MC Pro201711.3194.63µmTBD1.2 – 7.3e63700e
ASI183MC Pro201720.2192.4µm84%1.6 – 7.0e15000e
ASI183MM Pro201720.2192.4µm84%1.6 – 7.0e15000e
ASI183MC201720.2192.4µm84%1.6 – 7.0e15000e
ASI183MM201720.2192.4µm84%1.6 – 7.0e15000e
ASI174MM20152.4164.55.86µm77%3.5 – 6.0e32ke
ASI174MM Mini20172.318.45.86µm77%3.5 – 6.0e32000e
ASI178MC20156.4602.4µmTBD1.4 – 2.2e15000e
ASI178MM20156.4602.4µmTBD1.4 – 2.2e15000e
ASI385MC20172.11203.75µmTBD0.7 – 2.8e18700e
ASI224MC20151.21503.75µmTBD0.8 – 3.2e19200e
ASI120MM-S20141.2603.75µm75%4.0 – 6.6e13000e
ASI120MM-MINI20171.2353.75µm75%4.0 – 6.6e13000e
ASI533MC Pro20199203.76µm80%1.0e – 3.8e50000e
ASI183GT201920192.4µm84%1.5 – 3.0e15000e
ASI6200MC Pro201961.223.76µm80%1.2e – 3.5e51400e
ASI6200MM Pro201961.223.76µm91%1.2e – 3.5e51400e
ASI2600MC Pro2019263.53.76µm91%1.0e – 3.3e50,000e
ASI2400MC Pro20202485.94µm80%1.1e – 6.4e100,000e
ASI2600MM Pro202026.13.513.76µm91%1.0e – 3.3e50,000e
ASI294MM Pro20204716.32.3µm90%1.26e-8e14,000e
ASI482MC2021282.55.8µm85%1.5e-12.9e51,500e
ASI432MM20221.81209μm79%2.4-20.897000e
ASI585MC20228.346.92.9µm91%0.8-12e47000e
ASI662MC20222.1107.62.9µm91%0.8-6.9e38200e
ASI678MC20228.347.52µm83%0.6-2.7e11270e
ASI461MM Pro20231003.773.76µm91%1.0e50300e

Glossary:

  • MP: Megapixels (resolution)
  • FPS: Frame-Rate Per Second (capture speed)
  • QE: Quantum Efficiency

There are also a number of discontinued ZWO cameras not included in this chart:

  • ASI120MC-S (2014)
  • ASI290MM (2015)
  • ASI290MC (2015)
  • ASI290MM Mini (2017)
  • ASI1600MM (2016)
  • ASI1600MM Pro (2016)
  • ASI1600GT (2019)
  • ASI482MC (2021)
  • ASI462MC (2020)
  • ASI485MC (2021)

FAQs about ZWO Cameras

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 in terms of image quality.

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

What telescopes are used with ZWO cameras?

Our results show that planetary imaging with ZWO cameras is most commonly done with telescopes from Celestron and Sky-Watcher.

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, Celestron, and Sky-Watcher.

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

What is the best ZWO camera for EAA?

The ZWO ASI224MC 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 is the best ZWO camera for beginners?

The best ZWO camera for beginners is the ZWO ASI224MC.

It is inexpensive but proven to deliver. Starting out with a color camera is easier than a monochrome model.

What is the best solar camera for ZWO?

The best ZWO solar camera is the ZWO ASI174MM.


Conclusion: Best ZWO Cameras

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

If you want to consider more than just ZWO cameras, then check out our other articles:

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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4 thoughts on “ZWO Camera Comparison (Best for Planetary and DSO in 2024)”

    • Thanks Kelechi. Do you mean an update from us or from newly announced ZWO cameras? The article is currently up-to-date in terms of the information we have – or is there something that we’ve missed? Cheers

      Reply

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