Testing Ximea XiC MC023MG-SY camera with mono IMX174 sensor

Ximea is a machine vision company that makes a wide range of cameras from fast and small for vision applications to big cooled for more scientific and specialized use cases. In 2012 I've tested one of their cameras and now I've decided to check their progress by reviewing one of current cameras - USB3.1 MC023MG-SY camera with a mono IMX174 CMOS sensor.

Sony IMX174

Sony IMX174

This review will be partially focused around astrophotography, yet it will contain general information about the software and performance of the camera. In 2012 I've tested xiQ MQ013MG-E2 with e2v EV76C560 sensor and in 2013 xiQ MQ042MG with big CMV4000 CMOSIS sensor.

Ximea XiC MC023MG-SY camera

The XiC family of cameras is based around USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface. The housing is really small - 26x26x33mm and weighs around 38 grams. The camera uses C/CS thread but due to relatively large IMX174 some C/CS lenses will not fully illuminate the sensor (1/1.2" diagonal). IMX174 is a well proven Sony CMOS sensor that have been used in astrophotography from planetary to deep space imaging. It offers nowadays large 5,86µm pixels and a 1936x1216 frame and a global shutter (handy when imaging fast moving objects). The camera is rated for 165 FPS RAW8 at full frame.

C-mount lens

C-mount lens

C/CS lens

C/CS lens

T-thread adapter

T-thread adapter

M42 lens

M42 lens connected via C to T-thread adapter

1,25 inch astronomical nosepiece

1,25 inch astronomical nosepiece connected via the same adapter

XiCOP

Ximea offers drivers and general purpose applications for Windows, macOS and Linux. XiCOP is a management application that lists all of the camera and USB controller parameters as well as detects possible problems (very good for debugging issues). It can also be used for firmware upgrades but that should be done when using validated (supported) USB3 controllers (as if flashing goes badly it can brick the camera).

XiCOM can be used to manage and debug Ximea cameras

XiCOM can be used to manage and debug Ximea cameras

As of now for AMD only Threadripper USB controllers were validated but the camera works on B550 motherboard with Ryzen 5900X

As of now for AMD only Threadripper USB controllers were validated but the camera works on B550 motherboard with Ryzen 5900X

Ximea CamTool

Ximea CamTool is the imaging application. It allows capturing single frames as well as AVI clips. Exposure and gain can be controlled manually. When recording AVI files the app can use H.264 codec or save raw footage. For astrophotography and when quality is required use the RAW option.

Ximea CamTool has the basic settings available

Ximea CamTool has the basic settings available

There is no excess resource usage during capture

There is no excess resource usage during capture

Third party applications like SharpCap won't detect the camera (no generic driver like WDM, DirectShow), however the company offers C, C++, C# and Python bindings to their API so it should be relatively easy integrating Ximea support with some existing applications. Ximea supports the GenICam standard as well as vision libraries like OpenCV, Halcon or LabVIEW.

Ximea XiC connected to RedCat 51 refractor telescope

Ximea XiC connected to RedCat 51 refractor telescope

Ximea has dedicated USB cables for their cameras

Ximea has dedicated USB cables for their cameras

Imaging

During my review time I could not catch any planet due to their alignment and even Moon was usually hidden behind clouds or not available but I managed to test this uncooled camera on popular DS object - M42. The camera does support long exposures (to around 30s) so I used 3 second exposures at around 75% gain and RedCat 51 refractor with Baader Neodymium light pollution filter. Below you can see processed image, stacked from 1700 frames:

M42 nebula

M42 nebula

M42 nebula without dark frame subtracted

M42 nebula without dark frame subtracted

The image quality is really good. You can still see some horizontal banding but that should be fixed by using flat and bias frames (and usually bit longer exposures). The amp glow is also quite low. Early ZWO cameras with Sony CMOS sensors did have problems with much stronger amp glow like effects.

3sec master dark (stretched)

3sec master dark (stretched)

Stars or point light sources can be focused with a Bahtinov Mask

Stars or point light sources can be focused with a Bahtinov Mask

Bandpass imaging

Mono sensors are usually intended for more specialized imaging. As there are no RGB filters forming the Bayer pattern every pixel can be used with external bandpass filters. For starters I used Baader RGB filters to get a full frame shot via each of them to get a color RGB image:

Red filter

Red filter

Green filter

Green filter"

Blue filter

Blue filter

IR, UV cut filter - full visible band

IR, UV cut filter - full visible band

RGB image

RGB image

In a Bayer pattern 50% pixels would be green, 25% blue and 25% red, while when imaging via external RGB filters 100% of pixels will be used for each color channel and no debayering will be needed. The drawback is that the photographed scene can't change between shots.

Astronomik ProPlanet 742 IR longpass filters makes pine needles appear white

Astronomik ProPlanet 742 IR longpass filters makes pine needles appear white

Chlorophyll and other pigments present in leafs and pine needles don't really absorb infrared so direct sunlight is reflected and they appear as white.

UV band captured through Astrodon UVenus bandpass filter

UV band captured through Astrodon UVenus bandpass filter

UV can be an important band for material analysis or Venus imaging, however silicon sensors loose a lot of their efficiency as the wavelength gets shorter. Exposure time for this filter was much longer even when part of the tree was in direct sunlight. Also note that for successful UV imaging you need a filter that doesn't leak in IR which for UV bandbass filters is hard to achieve. Astronomical filters (Astrodon, Baader, Chroma, Optolong and others) had to overcome this and nowadays they offer exceptional parameters. A cheaper option would be to use Wratten #47 violet filter stacked with Schott BG39 filter.

IR-VIS-UV false color image

IR-VIS-UV false color image

This is a false color image where red channel is IR filter, green is visible band (IR/UV cut filter) and blue is UV filter. Pine needles in direct sunlight appear red as they reflect a lot of IR wavelengths.

Ximea cameras in astrophotography

As of the time I'm writing this article there is no ASCOM driver for Ximea cameras as well as planetary capture apps like FireCapture and SharpCap won't handle them. You will have to use CamTool or write your own capture application (or add support for existing one). I've tested Python binding as well as C# bindings via IronPython and they do work without problems so it shouldn't be that hard. The cameras don't have an ST4 port so they can't work as an on-camera autoguider.

On the other side Ximea offers fast USB 3.1 cameras with proven Sony CMOS sensors. Aside of IMX174 they have the new 3,45µm pixel based IMX252/250/255/253 which aside of planetary imaging would be really good at fast Lunar and Solar imaging (similar to like Moravian Instruments offering).

Ximea just like QHY is also working on scientific cameras with GPixel GSense sensors - very large, very sensitive 16-bit and very expensive CMOS sensors.

And if you need really really fast large frame imaging then they have some cameras on PCIe interface.

QHY5-III 174MM versus Ximea MC023MG-SY
QHY5-III 174MM versus Ximea MC023MG-SY
QHY5-III 174MM versus Ximea MC023MG-SY

QHY5-III 174MM versus Ximea MC023MG-SY

Example clip from MC023MG-SY

Example clip from MC023MG-SY

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Astronomy and Astrophotography, 23 February 2021, Piotr Maliński

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