Skip to Content

dedicated astronomy camera

ZWO ASI2600MM First Impressions

|Camera|10 Comments

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro mono is the much anticipated monochrome version of ZWO’s popular ZWO ASI2600MC Pro dedicated astronomy camera. It houses a 26 Megapixel Sony IMX571 back-illuminated sensor, and some seriously impressive specs.

This camera uses a highly sensitive, cooled, monochrome CMOS sensor in the APS-C format. The size and resolution of this sensor is its biggest selling feature.

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro not only improves on nearly every aspect of its predecessor (the ASI1600MM), the sensor is now APS-C, capturing a larger field of view. In the land of deep space astronomy cameras, the APS-C sensor size is said to be “the sweet spot”, balancing a large field of view with a practical size for demanding optical systems.

If you are thinking about purchasing your first monochrome camera for astrophotography, this would be an excellent choice. It is well supported, features some of the best camera specs in the industry, and is a practical system for a wide variety of telescope configurations. 

Order the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro

Due to its impressive specs and versatility, I believe the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro mono will be one of the most popular cameras for astrophotography in 2021, and beyond. ZWO sent me an early version of the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro to test in my backyard, and report my results. I was not compensated in any way to review this camera, nor was I given any directions of what to talk about. 

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro example image

First light using the 2600MM Pro. 20 x 5-minutes in H-Alpha (3nm Chroma filter). 

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Mono

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro is a lightweight, cooled CMOS astrophotography camera that specializes in deep-sky imaging. This camera shares some features with its ASI1600MM counterpart but there are many upgrades to the 2600MM Pro including; a higher image resolution, a back-illuminated sensor, built-in dew heater, higher full well depth, and quantum efficiency.

In fact, the well depth of the 2600MM Pro is more than twice that of the ASI1600 (50K vs. 20K), and the quantum efficiency is rated to be an impressive 91%. This is the highest QE CMOS camera I have ever used for deep-sky astrophotography. 

Trevor Jones

The 2600MM Pro remains lightweight, although it is slightly heavier than the 1600MM Pro at 1.5 lbs (0.7 kg). The look and feel of the 2600MM Pro are similar to other ZWO cameras with the same port for power, cooling, and USB 3.0 hub.

OPT Telescopes shared this video about this camera in early February, and it does a great job of explaining the key specifications of the camera.

As with other monochrome cameras, filters are needed with the ASI2600 to produce a full-color image. Many will use this camera for narrowband imaging, but this astronomy camera would make an excellent LRGB imaging workhorse as well.

A power cable is needed for powering the cooling system that will control the sensor temperature and help to reduce noise in your image. If you are looking for a suitable power supply for the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro, I recommend using a 12V 5A AC/DC adapter as described on the ZWO website

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro

ASI2600MM Pro Mono Key Features and Specs

Sensor:

The 2600MM Pro camera features a 26-megapixel sensor that provides a wider/larger field of view with increased dynamic range to deliver clear, crisp images. Another feature of the 2600MM Pro sensor is the back-illuminated sensor. This helps to reduce noise and eliminate amp glows produced by weak infrared light that appear in the corner of uncalibrated images.

Pixel size:

Pixel size of the 2600MM Pro is 3.76um. The combination of 3.76 um pixels and a larger sensor allow for a much larger resolution and overall image with a full resolution of 6248 x 4176.

You can calculate the pixel scale of your camera system by combining this value (3.76), and your telescope’s focal length. The ideal range is about 2.0 for a well-sampled image, but this is only a general rule of thumb based on optical seeing conditions. 

The calculation is pixel size divided by focal length, x 206. For example, when pairing this camera with my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 telescope, I reach a pixel scale of 1.4. (3.76 ÷ 550 x 206 = 1.4)

ASI2600MM Mono

The ASI2600MM Pro mono is noticeably larger and heavier than my ASI294MC Pro and ASI533MC Pro. 

Full Well Depth:

Full Well depth (along with bit depth), give you a better dynamic range, allowing you to take longer exposures before data clipping occurs and avoid unwanted light and bloated stars. The 2600MM Pro has a full well depth of 50,000 e which is more than double that of the ASI 1600MM Pro.

The full well capacity of a camera (sometimes called pixel well depth or just well depth) is a measurement of the amount of light a photosite can record before becoming saturated, that is no longer being able to collect any more.

Quantum efficiency:

Quantum Efficiency (QE) and read noise are the most important aspects of a dedicated astronomy camera. QE can be summarized as the percentage of light that hits the sensor and gets recorded into the final image.

A high QE and low read noise are critical for improving the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of an astrophotography image.  

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro boasts an impressive QE peak value of 91%, which is even higher than the QE peak for this camera’s color counterpart (6200MC Pro). 

The 2600MM Pro records and converts 91% of the light hitting the sensor into a usable image which is 31% more light than the 1600MM Pro.

Read Noise:

Read noise is the noise created by the camera and includes pixel diode noise, circuit noise, and ADC quantization error noise. Essentially, the lower the read noise of your camera, the better.

The Read Noise of the ASI2600 is extremely low when compared to a traditional CCD camera. The ASI2600MM also includes a built-in “HCG mode”, which helps to reduce read noise at high gain while retaining the wide dynamic range for this camera as at low gain.

The best gain setting for the ASI2600MM Pro will depend on your astrophotography target. You’ll want to set the gain lower for a higher dynamic range (longer exposure) or set the gain higher for lower read noise in a shorter exposure project or lucky imaging.

A strong signal in a long exposure image will overcome read noise, and the calibration process of subtracting dark frames and bias frames will help correct this even further. 

Anti-Dew Heater:

The 2600MM Pro also includes a built-in dew heater that fits in the protective window of the camera to combat dew or ice and keep condensation off your sensor.

The dew heater can also be turned off at any time should you not want to use this feature or to save power.

Protective Window:

The 2600MM Pro includes a protective window in front of the camera sensor. The window is 60mm in diameter and 2mm thick.

Keep in mind that this is an AR (anti-reflective) coated filter, while ASI2600MC Pro (color) uses an IR CUT filter.

Cooling System:

The 2600MM Pro is designed with a two-stage cooling system that can cool the camera sensor below 35°C reducing sensor noise and exposure time.

ZWO recommends that you use a 12V @ 3A DC adapter to power the cooling. The exact connection for power on the camera is 5.5mm x 2.1mm (center pole positive). A 12V 5A power adapter is a common choice, and what I personally use. 

Native Bit Depth:

The 2600MM Pro has 16-bit ADC and can achieve a dynamic range output of 14 stops to improve sharpness and contrast while allowing for smooth color transitions with gradients.

The ASI2600MM Pro supports 2×2,  3×3,  4×4 software binning (and Bin 2, Bin 3 hardware binning). 

Frames per second:

Since the 2600MM Pro has a larger sensor and bit depth it is not able to record data as quickly at only 3.5 frames per second. This is one noticeable advantage of the 1600MM Pro, which may be better suited for recording planetary data or video that you plan on stacking.

This camera supports custom ROI readout modes, which allow for faster frame rates at a smaller resolution. The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro can shoot a whopping 51 FPS when shooting at a tiny 320 x 240 resolution. 

cooling fan

The cooling fan and connector ports at the back of the camera. 

The 256MB DDR3 memory buffer inside of the camera helps manage a stable transmission of data from the camera to your computer. 

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro vs. ZWO ASI1600MM Pro

The ASI2600MM Pro is a monumental upgrade from the aging ASI1600MM Pro in every key category. Notable improvements are in quantum efficiency, well-depth, and overall resolution. 

Please see the comparison chart below for a complete overview:

Specifications ASI2600MM Pro ASI1600MM Pro
Weight 1.5 lbs 1lb
Sensor Monochrome Monochrome
Sensor model Sony IMX571 CMOS MN34230
Cooling System Built-in Built-in
Resolution 26 MP APS-C 16 MP Micro Four-thirds
Pixel Size in microns 3.76 3.8
Back-illuminated sensor Yes No
Built-in Dew Heater Yes No
Full well depth 50,000 e 20,000 e
Quantum Efficiency 91% 60%
Frames per second 3.5 23
Price $2,480 $1,280

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Specifications

  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Sensor: Sony IMX571
  • Mega Pixels: 26.1 MP
  • Pixel Array: 6248 x 4176
  • Pixel Size: 3.76 microns
  • ADC: 16 bit
  • Back Focus: 17.5 mm
  • Camera Connection: M42 X 0.75
  • Color or Mono: Monochrome
  • Cooled: Cooled
  • Full Resolution Frame Rate: 3.51fps
  • Full Well Capacity: 50ke
  • Max Frame Rate: 16fps
  • Peak Quantum Efficiency: 91%
  • Read Noise: 3.3e
  • Sensor Diagonal: 28.3 mm
  • Weight: 1.5 lb

Configurations and Back Focus

As with any dedicated astronomy camera, reaching the ideal back focus is critical to maximizing your results. Thankfully, ZWO provides a detailed back focus guide to achieve the recommended 55mm back focus of the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro. 

I will be using this camera with a ZWO 8-position filter wheel with 36mm filters. This adds 20mm of spacing to the camera configuration, and I will need to keep that in mind when building the imaging train.

camera attached to telescope

The camera attached to my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 refractor telescope.

For now, I have the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro attached to my telescope using a 2″ filter slider drawer and a 16.5mm adapter. This allows me to insert 2″ round mounted filters into the imaging train until my new set of narrowband filters arrives. 

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro backspacing

My current backspacing configuration of the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro.

I have the camera attached to my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 APO to enjoy a wider field of view than I am used to with this telescope. The camera system threads directly to the dedicated field corrector (M48 threads) of the telescope. 

A notable change in backspacing between the ASI1600MM and the 2600MM is the depth of the sensor from the front of the camera body (17.5mm). Those upgrading from the ASI1600 will need to keep this in mind when building out the new system. 

This camera also includes a tilt adjustment feature, which can be adjusted by using the 3 sets of screws found on the black flange of the camera. I would not recommend changing the factory tilt of the camera flange unless you are sure that there is a tilt issue in your optical train. 

Drivers and Camera Capture

I will be controlling my ASI2600MM Pro using Astro Photography Tool via the ZWO drivers. The ZWO website includes an extensive list of camera drivers for all of their dedicated astronomy cameras.

The latest ASI Cameras driver must be installed on your computer first, and then the ZWO ASCOM driver that supports all ZWO cameras, the EAF (electronic automatic focuser), and EFW (electronic filter wheel).

You can also read the full ZWO ASI2600MM Pro manual online which includes detailed performance graphs of the camera including the QE curve, dynamic range, and read noise. 

Included Items with the Camera

  • ZWO branded camera bag
  • ASI2600MM Pro Camera body
  • M48-M42 adapter
  • Printed Quick guide
  • USB3.0 Cable (2m)
  • M42-M42 21mm extender
  • M42-M48 16.5mm extender
  • 2″ cover
  • Hexagon wrench
  • 2x USB 2.0 cable (0.5m)

Final Thoughts

The reason the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro is such a practical choice for deep space astrophotography is the sensor size. If you have owned dedicated astronomy cameras in the past, chances are the sensor was smaller than APS-C.

For comparison, the ZWO ASI1600MM Pro has a micro 4/3 sensor, which is useful in most situations. However, you may find that a sensor of this size crops the field too much, and sacrifices the native focal length of your telescope.

I don’t know about you, but I would always take a little extra real estate on the camera sensor to collect larger deep sky objects in a single frame. 

Creating mosaics will be less common with this camera because you can gather so much sky in a single frame. Pair this camera with a short focal length refractor like the William Optics RedCat or Radian Raptor 61, and you’ll be photographing entire regions of nebulosity in the sky. 

The resolution of this sensor is incredible. I have enjoyed the small 3.76 micron pixel size of the QHY268C, and I am thrilled to now be able to shoot in monochrome with the ASI2600MM Pro.

Speaking of QHY, they too have a monochrome version of this sensor in the QHY 268M. This provides an alternative to the ZWO version for QHY fans looking for an affordable monochrome CMOS camera that delivers big results. 

The ZWO ASI1600MM Pro was one of the best-selling astronomy cameras ever, and for good reason. Some of the best amateur astrophotography images I’ve ever seen were captured using that camera. 

I believe the 2600MM Pro is poised to replace this camera’s prestigious position, and become a pivotal product in the astrophotography community. 

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro is roughly twice the price of the ZWO ASI1600MM. I think it is priced correctly for the long list of improvements over the aging ASI1600MM Pro.

Seagull Nebula SHO

The Seagull Nebula in SHO. Captured using the ASI2600MM mono and Chroma 3nm filters.

Order the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro

Related Posts:

Related Tags

ZWO ASI533MC Pro (First Look)

|Camera|18 Comments

The ZWO ASI533MC Pro is a one-shot-color (OSC) dedicated astronomy camera designed for deep-sky astrophotography. Over the past 8 years, I have had the pleasure of testing many astrophotography cameras, from entry-level DSLRs to cooled, monochrome CCD’s. 

The camera you choose for astrophotography will determine the types of subjects in the night sky that you will photograph. In the case of the ZWO ASI533MC Pro, the subjects will likely include deep-sky objects including large nebulae. 

ZWO reached out to me directly with an opportunity to test an early version of the ASi533MC Pro. I initially thought it would be strikingly similar to my previous color astronomy camera, but as I spent more time reviewing the data the subtle differences became evident. 

Previously, I have enjoyed using the ZWO ASI294MC Pro, and took some of my best astrophotography images to date with it. Like the 294MC Pro, this astrophotography comes in a color version only. 

astrophotography camera

In this article, I will do my best to share real results using this astrophotography camera from my backyard in the city. The images shared on this page were captured using a 100mm refractor (Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 APO) riding on an equatorial telescope mount. 

My backyard is classified as a class 6/7 on the Bortle Scale, which is considerably light-polluted. I rely on filters to photograph objects in space from the comfort of my home. 

If you find this article useful, please consider signing up for my newsletter to get notified when I share new articles. 

astrophotography

Images captured using the ASI533MC Pro.

The ZWO ASI533MC Pro

The ASI533MC Pro is ZWO’s latest OSC camera, and it’s equipped with a 9MP Sony IMX533 CMOS sensor. This camera sensor is quite different from the one in the ASI294 I am used to. 

This one is a 1″ square (11.1mm x 11.1mm) format with a 3008 x 3008-pixel resolution. The pixel size is 3.76um, which determines the pixel scale you can expect to realize with your imaging system. 

ZWO ASI533MC Pro

When comparing a dedicated astronomy camera to a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, there are a number of key differences. The biggest one is cooling. 

This ZWO ASI533MC Pro has a built-in TEC (thermoelectric cooler) that requires a 12V power source to run. This allows the sensor to reach as much as -35 Celsius below the ambient temperature. 

This can dramatically reduce the amount of noise recorded in your images. If you have ever tried to take a long exposure image using a high ISO with your DSLR on a hot summer night, you’ll know why this feature is so important.

Another big difference between a dedicated astronomy camera and a DSLR/Mirrorless system is the back-illuminated CMOS sensor. This design is common in astronomy cameras because it can improve sensitivity and reduce noise.

Video

If you would like to see how I have the camera connected to my telescope and get an inside look at my first run with the ZWO ASI533MC Pro, please watch the following video:

Based on the comments for this video, a lot of people wanted to see a comparison between the ASI533MC Pro and the ASI294MC Pro I was previously using. For the most useful comparison, I will need to shoot the same target (Horsehead Nebula) using the ASI533MC Pro without the APEX 0.65 reducer. 

Unfortunately, I have not had another clear night to test this configuration, but the Stellarium sensor view diagrams further down this article should help. 

I have put together the following comparison graphic with an overlay of the native field of view you can expect with the 533 sensor.

ASI533 ASI294 comparison

The sensor size and resolution of the 533MC Pro is an attractive choice for amateur astrophotographers that wish to photograph mid-size deep-sky objects with refractors in the 400-600mm range. 

ASI553MC Pro vs. ASI294MC Pro

One of the key differences between the ASI533MC Pro and the ASI294MC Pro is that there is zero amp glow in the 533. I was very comfortable seeing amp glow in my light frames on the 294, as they were a cinch to remove using calibration frames. 

However, the topic of amp glow seems to come up more than I would have expected in the astrophotography community, so it is obviously an issue for some imagers. 

I won’t go into detail with all of the specifications for this camera. Partly because you can discover all of these details yourself on the ASI533MC Pro product page, and partly because I am incapable of providing an intelligent description of why 14bit ADC is important. 

For convenience, I have included the handy spec breakdown graphic ZWO puts together for all of their CMOS astrophotography cameras. 

camera specifications

This camera shares some similar qualities to the ASI183MC Pro, with the biggest (noticeable) differences being in resolution, sensor shape, and read noise. ZWO has shared a comparison chart between the ASI183MC (and Mono) and the ASI533MC Pro on their website.  

I did not notice an obvious improvement in read noise between the ASI533MC Pro and the ASI294MC Pro, but I did notice that the amp glow was completely gone. I always use dark frame calibration in the stacking process to help create an image with a stronger signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), so the noise present in the individual light frames is not something I pay a lot of attention to.

Connecting the Camera

For my testing, I controlled the camera using Astro Photography Tool (APT). Before connecting the camera using APT, I downloaded the necessary drivers to run the camera on my computer from the ZWO website. This includes the updated ASI ASCOM driver, which was due for an update since the last time I ran through this process. 

After connected the camera in APT, I set the Gain and Offset settings to Unity Gain, a setting I have found to work best for my sky conditions and the filters I use most often. 

how to connect the camera

Controlling the ZWO ASI533MC Pro using Astro Photography Tool. 

It was strange to see a completely square preview image out of this ZWO camera after using the 4/3″ sensor ASI294MC Pro for so long.

The camera cooled very quickly, and the 256MB DDR3 buffer ensured that my live-view text exposures appeared on screen for framing and focusing. I usually use a 5-second loop when finding and framing my deep-sky target. 

With the duo-bandpass filter in place, objects that glow with hydrogen gas jump off the screen in a short exposure. This makes framing your subject much easier if you are not utilizing plate-solving to set up your imaging plan. 

Image Scale and Resolution

The aspects of this camera that I can appreciate and understand are the image scale and resolution. The pixel size of the AS533MC Pro can (in theory) create higher-resolution images of nebulae and galaxies than I was used to with the ASI294MC Pro. 

The field of view using my refractors has changed significantly as well. Take a look at the image comparisons created in Stellarium with the sensor sizes of the 533 and 294 entered in. 

Here is a look at the native FOV you can expect using the ZWO ASI533MC Pro with a Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 APO refractor:

ASI533 Field of View

The field of view using the ASI533 with a 550mm focal length refractor. 

Now, here is the same target, using the same telescope, but using the ZWO ASI294MC Pro:

ASI294MC Pro FOV

The field of view using the ASI294 with a 550mm focal length refractor. 

The backspacing diagram on the ZWO website lists that the camera sensor is to be 55mm from the sensor to the field flattener. For the APEX 0.65X reducer/flattener I was using, this distance increased to 58mm as directed by Starizona. 

This is a specific distance recommended for this particular telescope and reducer combination. In most cases, stick with the listed 55mm of back focus for your camera. 

It was very easy to create this spacing using the included 11mm ring on the ASI533MC Pro, the Starizona adapter and the filter slider drawer.

back spacing for ASI533

First Impressions

It seems as though ZWO really wants you to try this camera out with a dual-bandpass narrowband filter, as they are currently (at the time of writing) including a duo-band filter with the camera. 

I was not sent the ZWO duo-band filter and opted to use the Optolong L-eNhance filter with this camera in the backyard. Dual-bandpass narrowband imaging with a color camera has quickly become one of my favorite ways to photograph the night sky from the city.

I chose two targets to photograph using the ASI533MC Pro, the Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula in Orion, and NGC 7822 in Cepheus. My first night out with the ASI533MC Pro was very cloudy for most of the night. I ended up with just 13 x 4-minute sub-exposures on my target. 

This is not enough integration time for a quality astrophoto, but it did give me a great idea of the image scale of this IMX533 sensor.

Horsehead Nebula in Orion

13 x 4-minutes (52-minutes total exposure) at Unity Gain using the ZWO ASI533MC Pro.

In this image, I simply did not have enough signal to take a fair look at the data. Two nights later, however, I was able to collect a healthy amount of light on another nebula target, NGC 7822.

This time, I shot 30 x 5-minute exposures (again, at Unity Gain) for a grand total of 2.5 hours in one-shot-color. Dark frame subtraction was applied to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of the stacked image, and I was finally able to see what the ASI533MC Pro could really do.

The following image was captured through the same telescope system shown in my video, including the Starizona APEX 0.65 reducer.

Example image using ZWO ASI533MC Pro

30 x 5-minutes (2.5 hours total exposure) at Unity Gain using the ZWO ASI533MC Pro.

Rosette Nebula

The Rosette Nebula (11 x 5-minutes) at Unity Gain using the ZWO ASI533MC Pro. 

As I mentioned earlier, one of the key differences between the ASI533 and ASI294 is the resolution. The pixel scale using my optical system has changed due to the smaller pixels (3.76 um) on the ASI533MC Pro sensor.  

To my surprise, I did see a noticeable difference in resolution in the images taken using the ASI533MC Pro. It is difficult to illustrate this in an image shown on my website, but the added resolution became obvious as I spent time processing the image of NGC 7822 up-close. 

I believe that the image of the red-channel (with 25% green mixed in for dynamic range) illustrates the impressive resolution of this camera.

better resolution

The resolution of the ASI533MC Pro was impressive using my optical system. 

I am excited to try this camera on the Rosette Nebula in the coming months. The field of view (with the 0.65 reducer in place) looks to be a perfect fit for this object. 

Who This Camera is For

As with most dedicated astronomy cameras, the overall practicality of the ASI533MC pro will depend on the optical system you plan on using it with. For those of you that shoot with wide-field refractors as I often do, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the data you collect. 

With the 550mm focal length of Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 APO, the field of view and pixel scale was a good fit. Now, as many have pointed out, I changed the native pixel scale of this telescope by using the Starizona APEX 0.65 reducer

If you are unfamiliar with the pixel scale formula, here it is: 

pixel size (3.76) / focal length (550) x 206 = 1.4

With the Starizona 0.65X Reducer:

pixel size (3.76) / focal length (550) x 206 = 2.16

In the amateur astrophotography community, a general rule of thumb is to use a pixel scale that is between 1.0 to 2.0 to be “well-sampled”. This is simply a rough guideline and should not be taken too literally.

Using this guideline, the pixel scale of the Esprit 100 + 0.65 means that my images are under-sampled (blocky). If the image looks too blocky for you (see the full-res version on Astrobin), then perhaps this camera is not a good fit for you. Me? I think it’s just right. 

The image of NGC 7822 shown below was particularly exciting for me to process. This is partly because it is a new deep-sky object for me, but also because I noticed an increase in image resolution from the images captured using the 294MC Pro. 

NGC 7822

 

ZWO ASI533MC Pro Camera Specs:

  • Sensor: 1″ SONY IMX533 CMOS
  • Diagonal: 11.3mm x 11.3mm
  • Resolution: 9 Mega Pixels (3008 x 3008)
  • Pixel Size: 3.76µm
  • Bayer Pattern: RGGB
  • ADC:14bit
  • DDRIII Buffer: 256MB
  • Cooling: -35C below ambient
  • Read Noise: 1.0e
  • Full Well: 50000e
  • QE: 80%

Related Tags