The ZWO ASIAIR Plus Has Arrived
The ZWO ASIAIR Plus is the third generation of the popular ASIAir wireless controller. This tiny red aluminum box aims to replace your laptop computer, imaging software, USB hubs, power supply, and even your WiFi connection.
The goal of this device is to make collecting images of deep-sky objects (or planets) easier, and automated. You can control everything on your smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android) from inside the house.
The “Plus” improves on several aspects of the previous “Pro” model, including a 2.5X faster I/O speed and an enhanced antenna for a stronger WiFi signal. Capturing images of space while you sleep has never been easier.
The biggest differences between the new ASIAIR Plus and ASIAIR Pro are the extended WiFi range, faster I/O speeds (thanks to onboard eMMC storage), a new USB type-C port, and real-time power voltage monitoring within the mobile app.
I skipped over the ASIAIR Pro, so the power ports are a nice upgrade from the original ASIair. Here is a list of all the external ports on the device:
- USB Type-C
- Micro SD
- 12V DC Power x 4
- Ethernet x 1
- DSLR Shutter Release
- USB 2.0 x 2
- USB 3.0 x 2
Have you thought about switching your laptop and about 4 pieces of software for an all-in-one portable device? I did, for a while, but I came crawling back to my classic “computer in a bucket” routine soon after.
The third installment of the ASIAIR legacy aims to correct the previous device’s shortcomings that were enough for guys like me to return to their old ways. This includes everything from the WiFi range, to overall system stability.
The astrophotography accessory that “changed the game” is now more refined and capable than ever. It costs $299 USD and replaces your laptop computer for astrophotography (if you’re running an ASI dedicated astronomy camera, that is).
ZWO sent me a demo copy of the latest edition of their flagship wireless controller. I reluctantly agreed to modify my beloved setup and capture rituals to get a true feeling for the ASIAIR Plus experience.
I think the following graphic ZWO shared on the ASIAIR Plus product page illustrates the main purpose of this device quite well:
That’s me, before the ASIAIR Plus, on the top left.
ZWO ASIAIR Plus
By now, you’ve probably heard of the ASIAIR. It’s essentially a mini raspberry pi computer with all of the tools you need for a complete imaging session with your ZWO camera (or “mainstream” DSLR).
Existing ASIAIR users seem to really enjoy them (often owning more than one of them) and I think it’s because it really solved a number of problems that beginner to intermediate astrophotographers were having.
It streamlines the start-to-finish capture process and allows you to do everything from your phone or tablet without touching the telescope or even going outside.
What the ASIAIR Plus Does:
- Deep-sky imaging
- Exposure previews
- Plate solving
- Focus assistant
- Polar alignment assistant
- Multi-target plan
- Planetary imaging (video)
- Live stacking
Instead of monitoring a laptop computer outside that is tethered to your equipment via cables, you are free to leave your equipment alone and control everything from your phone.
The device connects to your mobile phone or tablet via WiFi, just like you would for your home internet connection. Your home WiFi connection is not lost, but you may have to connect/re-connect to the ASIAIR WiFi if and when the connection is lost.
Rest assured, your imaging session does not stop if you lose the WiFi connection, and your images are safely stored as they come through.
Why I Waited for the “Plus”
It’s remarkable to see how far this hobby has come in the last 10 years. No matter how the old-school crowd of astrophotographers feel about this device, it really is an incredible innovation.
I think the ASIAIR is responsible for ushering a new wave of astrophotographers by reducing the friction of the setup and image acquisition process, and that’s one heck of an accomplishment.
The unit is slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor.
So if the AISAIR is so great, why haven’t I used one for the last 2 years?
To be honest, the ASIAIR fixes a lot of problems I didn’t have. I love my old-school setup routine, (including my laptop), and my personal love for astrophotography is stronger than ever.
I am happy to set up my (all-weather) laptop computer in the backyard and use familiar software tools (such as Astro Photography Tool) that provide me with complete control over my imaging sessions.
I log in remotely to my PC using tools like AnyDesk, so I am accustomed to the freedom of controlling my telescope from inside the house. But let’s be honest, I spend most of the time outside with my rig anyway (even in the winter).
But I realize the way I do things is not for everyone. People appreciate the features of the ASIAIR that allow astrophotographers to spend more time capturing images, and less time tweaking settings and installing updates on their PC.
With that out of the way, let’s see what all the fuss is about:
The ZWO ASIAIR Plus starts shipping in November 2021. As new information becomes available, firmware updates are applied, and all features are explored, I will append the article to include the latest information.
ZWO supplied a demo version of the ASIAIR Plus to me, but it is on loan unless I decide to purchase it from them. These are my honest, real-world opinions, and ZWO does not have any control over what I say.
Although my astrophotography reviews are not overly technical, they are practical and hands-on. At the time of writing, I’ve used the ASIAIR Plus to run a number of deep-sky imaging sessions in the backyard.
Instead of using a micro SD card to store the OS (as the ASIAIR Pro did), the ASIAIR Plus has a custom-designed board featuring eMMC storage. This provides faster read and write speeds and improved system stability.
The full-frame dedicated astronomy camera I used produces 50MB raw images in Bin 1×1 mode, and the device had zero issues processing the data. I much prefer storing my image files on a USB drive over the micro SD card I used with the original ASIair.
The 4 x 12V DC output ports are incredibly handy to have riding along with your telescope. These ports can be used to power devices like your ASI camera, a dew heater, and even your telescope mount.
This significantly cuts down on the number of cables running all over your imaging system.
You can now transfer image files from the device to your PC via the USB Type-C cable.
The Mobile App
The first thing I did was download the ASIAIR mobile app on my smartphone. I use a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, so I found the app in the Google Play Store.
The latest ASIAIR app is similar to the original version, with some clever improvements. I can see everything here from the camera temperature, dither settings, and even the focus position (if I was using an autofocuser, of course).
The ASIAIR mobile app.
I entered in my location details, along with the specifications of my gear including the telescope focal length. When your ASI cameras are plugged into the device, they are recognized immediately and can be selected from the drop-down menu.
The user interface is clean and easy to navigate. The entire setup process, including connecting the device to WiFi, was smooth and painless from start to finish.
ZWO put a lot of time and energy into their beta-testing period, and it seems that all major bugs have been addressed at this point. This is great news for those looking to order one when it officially launches in November.
I really like the power output settings. You can clearly see what’s plugged into what port, and how much power it’s drawing.
My primary imaging camera was the ZWO ASI2400MC Pro, and for autoguiding, the ZWO ASI290MM Mini. The ASIAIR Plus powers both cameras, which are connected via the supplied (with the camera) USB 3.0 and USB Type-C cables.
The files produced by the ASI2400MC Pro are huge, so it was a great test of the devices read/write speeds.
To power the ASIAIR Plus itself, I use a 12V 5A power adapter I purchased on Amazon. If you’re looking for a decent power supply for the ASIAIR Plus, this is the one I use.
The camera is attached to the Radian 61 APO. The laptop is gone, and everything rides together on the telescope mount. The ASIAIR Plus comes with a handy mounting option, but I found good old velcro strips to be a great option for now.
The ASIAIR Plus is actually a little thinner and lighter than the previous versions, so it adds virtually no additional weight to your imaging setup.
The setup shown above is a stripped-down version of what the ASIAIR Plus can really do, as it can control everything from the mount to the filter wheel.
I’ve only used the ASIAIR Plus a handful of times so far due to weather, so I’ve only utilized the wireless image capture feature, along with the built-in autoguiding system.
Astrophotography Gear Used in Testing
- Camera: ZWO ASI2400MC Pro
- Filter: Radian Triad Ultra
- Telescope: Radian 61 APO
- Guide Scope: Starfield 50mm
- Guide Camera: ZWO ASI290MM Mini
- Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
- Camera Control: ZWO ASIAIR Plus
Focus and Framing
I enjoyed the focus and framing tool to confirm that my images were as sharp and centered as possible.
I regularly use a Bahtinov mask to confirm critical focus of my camera and telescope, but the ASIAIR Plus includes a FWHM measurement for those also using an autofocuser.
The focus/framing mode is essentially a continuous loop of short-exposure images. This is a great time to tweak the final framing of your deep-sky target.
Live-view focus using the ASIAIR Plus.
Once you have properly connected the ASIAIR Plus to your equatorial telescope mount, you can control your imaging sessions with accurate GoTo functionality.
This level of control not only lets you choose the deep-sky objects you wish to photograph, but also centers them in the field of view. This can save a lot of time and frustration for many people.
For many folks, controlling your telescope mount with the ASIAIR Plus might be one of the biggest draws to the product. For better or worse, on my smaller rigs, I continue to use the built-in hand controller on the telescope mount.
Related Article: How to Connect the ASIAIR to Your Sky-Watcher Mount
Once you have successfully connected your telescope mount to the ASIAIR Plus, you can use the search tool to find and slew to deep-sky objects in the night sky.
For those that appreciate electronically assisted polar alignment (similar to the QHY Polemaster experience), the ASIAIR Plus has its own built-in polar alignment feature.
I have not personally demoed the polar alignment tool, but others swear by it. Cody (AstroBlender) has a fantastic ASIAIR polar alignment tutorial on YouTube.
Many beginners struggle with the polar alignment process of an astrophotography mount, and I believe this is one of the main reasons the ASIAIR Plus and its predecessors are so popular.
Keep in mind that the polar alignment tool in the ASIAIR plus requires that you have a view within 30° of the celestial pole.
Running an Imaging Sequence.
The ASIAIR Plus corrects the biggest issue I had with the previous versions, the WiFi range. The dual-band antenna now reaches about 20 meters (65 ft), which is more than enough for me to get things running and keep tabs on my imaging sequence anywhere in the house.
It’s a dual-band WiFi network (2.4G/5G). ZWO states that the 5Ghz WiFi is faster than 2.4Ghz, but the range is better using 2.4Ghz. I personally used the 2.4Ghz range and experienced very little lag in the system.
The system is also a lot more stable in terms of the firmware and it boasts a 52MB/second write speed in order to handle today’s monster sensors and precious data coming through.
In my experience, the autoguiding feature of the ASIAIR Plus worked flawlessly, each and every time. Keep in mind, I was shooting with a very forgiving wide-field telescope and full-frame camera.
The tool is extremely easy to navigate and run. Once your guide camera is connected and you have entered in the focal length of your guide scope, expect a quick calibration run and reliable autoguiding throughout the night.
The guiding tool allows you to dither your images between each exposure, which (along with calibration frames) is extremely important for capturing quality data to integrate. In case you couldn’t tell from the image below, yes, the ASIAIR supports multi-star guiding.
The Guiding Tool.
It is possible to live stack your images using the ASIAIR Plus. This is often referred to as electronically assisted astronomy (EAA), as it allows you to get a better look at your chosen deep-sky object by taking several short-exposure images.
While reviewing your live stack images, you have the option to adjust the histogram to taste so that you can better view the target. If you’re looking for a great demo on the live stacking tool, check out this video.
Running an Imaging Plan
I really enjoyed the shooting schedule mode of the ASIAIR Plus. It makes the process of setting up a new imaging session crystal clear.
All of the important information is displayed, from the light frame exposure length to the binning mode.
You’re able to set a sequence of images to run automatically, whether they are your light frames (picture files) or calibration frames such as dark frames and flat frames.
Keep in mind that if you want to edit the specifics (such as exposure time, dithering) of your Autorun plan, you must reset the plan. There is no “edit” option to interrupt the imaging sequence and make changes to your settings.
Rest assured, this will not discard the images you have already taken. This feature is one that Yannick (Cuiv the Lazy Geek) hopes will be improved upon in the future.
My first tests were to just control the temperature of the camera and shoot a sequence of dark frames in the house. The FIT files came through flawlessly and were stored on my USB 3.0 thumb drive for easy transfer the morning after.
Framing and focusing your target on the ASIAIR Plus is a pleasure, the live-loop feedback on my phone allows me to fine-tune my focus and tweak the positioning of the mount for framing.
I decided to photograph the Lobster Claw Nebula for my first test of the ZWO ASIAIR Plus. This is a large nebulae region in Cassiopeia that includes plenty of other interesting deep-sky objects nearby.
When I combine a full-frame camera (ASI2400MC Pro) with my wide-field telescope, I can collect massive regions of space in a single shot. It was a thrill to see each exposure come through on the screen of my phone as I sat inside the house.
The user interface is pretty close to perfect in my eyes, I can’t think of a better way to display the information. I love being able to monitor the progress of my imaging session and auto-stretch the raw images as they come in.
Here is the final result of about 4 hours of overall integration using the ASIAIR Plus to control my imaging session.
The Lobster Claw Nebula, Bubble Nebula, and Cave Nebula.
If you already have an original ASIAIR or ASIAIR Pro, and you’re happy with it (and any workarounds you’ve made to extend the WiFi), I doubt you’ll feel an immediate need to upgrade right away.
But if you’re a “laptop guy” like me who’s been patiently waiting and watching the development of this product improve, now might be the time to finally dive in. The WiFi range on the original was annoying, but it was the stability/bugginess that scared me away.
The Flaming Star Nebula and the Tadpoles.
The ASIAIR Plus is a fantastic product, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to streamline their astrophotography experience using a ZWO ASI astronomy camera.
I’ll continue to use the ASIAIR Plus here in the backyard, and may finally have to retire one of my faithful astro-laptop computers for good.
- ZWO ASIAIR Facebook Group
- Technical Differences Between the ASIAIR Pro and Plus (JoeyTroy)
- Cable Organizer for the ASIAIR Plus (Etzy)
- ZWO ASIAIR manual and quick guide (ZWO)