I started off when I was 12 years old when my parents bought me a 2" refracting telescope, this had a very basic lens arrangement and I don't think it was even up to achromat quality. It had a ball and claw mount on a small table top tripod so it was only ever any good for looking at the moon and even then the image was fairly shaky. I think it was 50x magnification and you couldn't change the eyepiece. The focuser consisted of pushing or pulling the eyepiece tube. By todays standards it was terrible but for my first telescope I was over the moon so to speak.
After I finished at college and got my first job I was able to afford to buy a more reasonable telescope so I bought a Tasco 4.5" Newtonian reflector on a full sized wooden tripod with an equatorial mount, this cost £199 back in 1979. It showed much superior views to the small refractor but as the construction was so lightweight, vibration was a real problem so any form of imaging was going to be out of the question. The telescope came with a range of different eyepieces and a barlow converter so it was far more flexible.
Then in 2005 after a break away from astronomy I was in a position where I could afford something more decent and substantial where imaging would be more realistic. After looking around on the internet and checking out prices I bought a Meade LX200 GPS 10" telescope. This was of the Schmidt Cassegrain variety and it had full computerised goto capabilities built in as well as having a motorised mount to track the night sky while imaging. This was a huge leap forward from the Tasco and the views through it were stunning in comparison. You could still not see any of the rich colours depicted in photographs but this as I found out was because of the way our eyes work at night and short of having access to some of the worlds biggest telescopes I was never going to see these brilliant colours through my telescope.
My experiences with the Meade system were very mixed, the optics were very good and the goto system was good when it worked, occasionally it would throw a wobbly and say that none of the planets were visible at a particular time of night but they all would appear in the same place at the same time, this I knew was highly unlikely especially as I could clearly see venus at the time. Their ultrawide eyepieces gave superlative views but unfortunately half of my full set developed what can only be described as an oxidation of the coating on the glass. I used a DSI pro camera to image and the facilities in the software were quite amazing such as the stacking and drizzle, but I had problems with this software locking up my laptop when I tried to do images longer than 15 seconds and sometimes the drizzle facility just didn't work. At this point I changed my imaging camera to a Starlight Xpress SXVF M7C and also got a copy of Maxim DL + DSLR, and what a difference, the focusing was far easier and the image acquisition was so much easier, this in conjunction with Photoshop CS2 remains my choice of software. To top it all after only having the telescope for about a year and due to weather only being able to use it for about a dozen times one of the motors burnt out so my experiences with Meade were not very favourable, perhaps I was jinxed.
As funds allowed from overtime and helped by selling my repaired Meade system, my Hi-Fi system with substantial record collection I decided to go upmarket and get a system that would be reliable, accurate and that I could grow into without the need for further expensive upgrades. I was lucky to happen across The Widescreen Centre in London and over a period of a year I put together my current system. My dream mount which is probably the same for most astroimagers was the Paramount ME from Software Bisque, for the money it cannot be beaten by anything but at the time I thought it was out of my league.
I chose a Celestron C14 tube assembly with fastar to go with my William Optics megrez 90 and zenithstar 66 which I already had and I chose the Alter D6 mount with AWR conversion, there was a delay with this mount so I changed the order to a Losmandy Titan, but, again there was one delay after the other from Losmandy and there was still uncertainty as to exactly when it would be available. I was at Astrofest in February 2007 and I saw my dream in the flesh, NICE! I mulled it over in my mind all day and eventually decided to take the plunge and that is what I now have and I am glad I decided on that route.
The Paramount is controlled via The Sky 6 software on my laptop and its tracking ability is unbelievable, making imaging a dream. I have since purchased a Starlight Xpress SXVF M8C and H36 (large format) cameras and my girlfriend bought me a lodestar guiding camera for Christmas. My next step is to swap my two William Optics scopes for a TMB 115 (much better for imaging)
The Paramount ME is set up on top of a Tri-pier 2 which in turn is mounted on a trolley platform to allow for some portability in and out of a locked shed.
I will be adding an in depth review with more pictures of the equipment I use at a later date.
I have changed a few things over the last few years and am now using the ParamountME/Tri-Pier2 combination (still), a Takahashi FSQ106ED, FLI filter wheel, FLI Atlas focuser, Astrodon Monster MOAG off axis guider, Starlight Xpress Lodestar auto guider, FLI ML8300 and Astrodon filters. Larger telescopes are out of the question due to the difficulty in moving the equipment in and out of the shed