ZWO ASI294MC Pro cam­era

It may look much like many other ZWO cam­eras, but it’s hid­ing some sur­prises

Sky at Night Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS: GARY PALMER

0n the out­side the ASI294MC Pro colour cooled cam­era doesn’t ap­pear to bring much new to the com­pany’s range, with its fa­mil­iar styling, USB 2 hub and high-speed USB 3 port. But it’s on the in­side that the cam­era starts to be­come much more in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing.

This is the first cam­era in the world to boast Sony’s new IMX294 CJK back-il­lu­mi­nated 3/4-inch sen­sor, with a di­ag­o­nal size of 23.2mm and ap­prox­i­mately 11.71MP Be­ing part of the Pro range, the cam­era comes with 256MB DDR3 (dou­ble data rate type three) mem­ory in­stalled and a two-stage TEC cool­ing sys­tem that will cool it to be­tween –35°C and –45°C be­low am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture. You’ll need a good power sup­ply for the cam­era to reach this range, though, be­cause a power sup­ply unit un­der 3A can cause soft­ware to dis­con­nect when you’re cap­tur­ing im­ages.

HGC is a new fea­ture with this cam­era and stands for high gain con­ver­sion. It switches on au­to­mat­i­cally when the cam­era’s gain is raised above 120. This re­duces read noise to a lower level at higher gain with­out a loss to the dy­namic range. ZWO claims this means the cam­era can cap­ture 4K im­ages, al­though in our ex­pe­ri­ence 4K would prob­a­bly be more suited to in­dus­trial ap­pli­ca­tions than astronomy.

While we had a lot of warm weather over the re­view pe­riod, they weren’t the clear­est see­ing con­di­tions, with lots of high cloud. As the Moon was also bright we set up for some imag­ing in the early evening and it soon be­came ap­par­ent that we needed to play with the cam­era’s set­tings. The ini­tial on­screen view was very blue. On check­ing, the blue level was start­ing at 90 in­stead of around 55. We con­tacted the man­u­fac­turer and they were help­ful in solv­ing the prob­lem. It seems it was a soft­ware glitch.

Pick­ing out the finer de­tails

Once sorted, the cam­era pro­duced a fine im­age on screen and cap­tur­ing was very easy us­ing the SER file cap­ture mode. While not the fastest cam­era in full res­o­lu­tion we only needed to cap­ture around 200 frames and stack 50 to pro­duce a de­cent im­age of the Moon. Switch­ing over to plan­e­tary cap­ture a few nights later, the cam­era per­formed well un­der the poor con­di­tions and low views we had this sea­son. Run­ning in Re­gion Of In­ter­est (ROI) mode on Saturn we were able to cap­ture some good

de­tail with the use of an at­mo­spheric dis­per­sion cor­rec­tor on a 4-inch, f/11 te­le­scope. The next tar­get was Mars and, to be hon­est, we were not ex­pect­ing to cap­ture any sur­face de­tail be­cause of the dust storm that was en­velop­ing the planet. Us­ing the same te­le­scope with the ad­di­tion of a 4x Pow­er­mate we set ROI cap­ture to 640x480. In this mode the cam­era was record­ing at around 100fps. The re­sults were es­pe­cially im­pres­sive be­cause we pro­cessed im­ages from a few cam­eras that week, and the ASI294MC was the only one that picked up any sur­face de­tail on Mars.

On the next clear night, we used the cam­era cou­pled with a 2.5-inch quad re­frac­tor to im­age M31, the An­dromeda Gal­axy, and look at some live views of targets. To achieve this, we set the cam­era up in USB 2 mode with a 7m USB ex­ten­sion lead. The cam­era was very sta­ble, drop­ping no frames in the cap­ture soft­ware, while us­ing a short cap­ture time of 60 sec­onds meant we didn’t need to au­to­gu­ide.

The cam­era is great for live cap­ture and live stack­ing of ob­jects, and it was a plea­sure to watch a comet cross the screen in real time. This would be ideal for out­reach events for show­ing ob­jects to the pub­lic, or for live stack­ing in cap­ture soft­ware.

The ZWO 294 MC Pro cam­era re­ally has some­thing for everyone and with CMOS sen­sor bound­aries be­ing pushed with each new model of cam­era that comes out, it makes us won­der what new devel­op­ments will be com­ing next.

M31: 111x60”. Pro­cessed in PixIn­sight and Pho­to­shop

M27: 60”x60” Pro­cessed in PixIn­sight and Pho­to­shop

Mars: 5,000 frames cap­tured, 500 frames stacked in AS2 with pro­cess­ing in Pho­to­shop

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