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ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Review

Updated: Jun 19

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Review

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro mono is the eagerly awaited monochrome counterpart to ZWO's highly regarded ASI2600MC Pro dedicated astronomy camera. The camera boasts a powerful 26-megapixel Sony IMX571 back-illuminated sensor, coupled with a myriad of advanced specifications.

It was only recently that I was finally able to experiment with this dedicated astronomy camera. The ASI2600MM Pro has earned the reputation of being a standout performer within its class, ever since it was released in 2021. In this review, I'll delve into its remarkable specifications, performance, and share some initial images captured with this powerhouse camera.

ZWO provided an updated version of the model that has the notorious oil leak issue resolved. Since then, it has been my go-to tool for persistent deep-sky imaging. So, let's dive into the specifics of this technological wonder by ZWO.

ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Specifications at a glance:

Sensor Type: CMOS

Sensor: Sony IMX571

Megapixels: 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

Sensor characteristics:

The ASI2600MM Pro camera is equipped with a formidable 26-megapixel Back-Illuminated (BSI) sensor. It offers an enlarged field of view, coupled with an improved dynamic range, resulting in exceedingly sharp and pristine images. The sensor is designed with a unique back-illuminated feature which substantially mitigates noise and precludes amp glows. These glows have been a persistent issue in other BSI sensors. such as the ones in ASI294MC/MM and ASI1600MM/MC.

The pixel size of the ASI2600MM Pro is a considerable 3.76um. This yields an enhanced resolution that significantly augments the overall image quality. The full resolution achieved by this camera is a remarkable 6248 x 4176!

Full Well Depth:

The ASI2600MM Pro is equipped with an impressive full well depth of 50,000 e, surpassing the capabilities of both the ASI294MM Pro and ASI1600MM Pro. This considerable full well depth is key to enhancing your dynamic range, which in turn enables more extended exposure times before the risk of data saturation or clipping arises. It's particularly beneficial in minimizing the chances of encountering overly bright stars and extraneous light. This means you can capture more detail in both the dim and bright parts of your image, making the ASI2600MM Pro an ideal choice for detailed astrophotography.

IC 3104 and its surrounding dust: 50x 3 mins via a Luminance filter

NGC 4372 region: 65 x 3 mins via a Luminance Filter

Quantum efficiency:

With a stunning Quantum Efficiency (QE) peak of 91%, the ASI2600MM Pro significantly outperforms its colour version, the ASI2600MC Pro. This top-notch QE allows the ASI2600MM Pro to capture and convert an impressive 91% of the light hitting the sensor into usable image data, which is instrumental in producing high-quality astrophotography images.

Furthermore, having a low read noise alongside such a high QE is pivotal for enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) in your images, a vital aspect of astrophotography. The exceptional combination of a high QE peak and low read noise amplifies the ASI2600MM Pro's capabilities, ensuring more detail and better clarity in the images you capture, making it an outstanding tool for any dedicated astrophotographer.

Gain and offset:

The best gain setting for the ASI2600MM Pro will depend on your object you intend to image. I tend to stick to Gain 0 for broadband targets and Gain 100 for narrowband imaging. The offset is dependent on your set-up, but I typically hover around an offset of 40.

Anti-Dew Heater:

Incorporated within the design of the 2600MM Pro is a handy dew heater. This feature, conveniently integrated into the camera's protective window, acts as a reliable deterrent against the accumulation of dew or frost, ensuring that your sensor remains unaffected by condensation.

This brings a significant improvement in the quality of images, particularly in cold or humid conditions. Furthermore, this dew heater is not a fixed function; you have the flexibility to switch it off as you deem fit.

Cooling System:

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro comes equipped with an innovative dual-stage cooling system capable of bringing down the camera sensor's temperature to more than 35 degrees Celsius below ambient. This ingenious design is crucial in lessening the impact of sensor noise and minimizing exposure duration, consequently enhancing the quality of the captured images.

ZWO suggests using a DC adapter with 12V @ 3A specifications. The appropriate power connection for the camera measures 5.5mm x 2.1mm with a positive center pole. From my personal experience, a 12V 5A power adapter serves this purpose well and is a popular choice among users due to its robust performance and dependability.

By incorporating this advanced cooling system, the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro ensures an efficient astrophotography session by maintaining the optimal operating temperature of the camera sensor, even during long exposures. This significantly improves the overall imaging performance, making the 2600MM Pro a superb choice for serious astrophotographers.

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.

Backfocus requirement:

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 7x36mm filter wheel with Antlia LRGB V-Pro and Antlia 3.5nm SHO 36mm filters. This adds 20mm of spacing to the camera configuration, and you will need to factor that into your own imaging train respectively.

The ZWO EFW 7x36mm

ZWO's nifty solution to eliminate light leak

Note: Starting from 2023, ZWO will be providing these set of darkening rings (pictured above) to eliminate any form of light leak. I could only use the darkening ring sandwiched in between the EFW and camera since the other ring requires an OAG to be screwed on. In my case, simply using some electrical tape for this side proved effective!

The Test:

For this camera’s first light, what better way to test other than to bring it to really dark skies? And by dark skies, I mean Bortle 1 standard of darkness. As I was planning to fly into Perth, Western Australia for April 2024’s total solar eclipse, I figured why not bring the new-to-me ASI2600MM on this trip to the Australian outback? I chose some of the hardest targets to image, in terms of how dim they were and the extreme dynamic range required to capture the subtle details in the dust cloud and their surroundings. I chose to present the luminance channel since it is in this domain where the dynamic range of these objects are the highest. A good camera should be able to resolve and discern the subtle details. Be the judge for yourself!

NGC 2361: 45 x 3mins via a Luminance filter

NGC 5367: 35 x 3mins via a Luminance filter

Concluding thoughts?

The ASI2600MM is a clear winner in terms of imaging capability AND value. This sensor is essentially ‘slice’ from its bigger sibling, the ASI6200MM.

The ZWO ASI2600MM Pro not only improves on nearly every aspect of its predecessor (the ASI1600MM) and its ‘latest’ competitor (the ASI294MM), 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.

I would also like to thank the team at ZWO (especially U.T and M.J), for the help and advise they gave for this camera. To cut the long story short, I was in need of a new camera when my previous camera by another camera make broke down! (cooler was unresponsive and the main camera kept disconnecting). As my next dark-site trip was 2-3weeks away and given the uncertainty of shipment plus the need to test out the camera upon arrival, just to ensure that everything worked smoothly, time was really tight. Una and Ji were really responsive and they gave me sage advice regarding the next possible upgrade. Really kudos to their swift and reliable service!

All in all, 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.

Till then, clear skies everyone!

Here are the 'completed' colour images, blended with the luminance channels above. The RGB data didn't do these gorgeous luminance data justice mainly because they were all less than 40mins of exposures and I was fighting with my mount (which will be detailed in another seperate blog post in the future).

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