Philips Vesta Pro (and SC modification): Back in 2001, I started out with a cheap CMOS webcam that I won in an Ebay auction for about $20. I started out by connecting it to my old ETX90 and took a few photos of the moon, and then Jupiter. I was totally hooked after seeing the first few blurry images that I took with my own equipment! I experimented with a few more webcams and finally got the ultimate camera which is best for planetary/lunar imaging - Philips Vesta Pro. I found a very active group of astronomers on the internet (see QCUIAG) where I learned how to modify the camera to take long exposures for deep sky imaging. I modified my camera for deep sky imaging with about $15 worth of parts and plans from the internet and created what is know as a Vesta Pro SC ("SC" is for Steve Chambers who invented the mod and shared it freely with the world). I currently own 3.5 of these cameras (the .5 is a bunch of parts from a failed 2nd try at making another long exposure mod). I still use my modifed camera (photo below) for autoguiding, and I use the un-modified one for planetary and lunar imaging. Even the most expensive camera can't beat the Vesta Pro for planetary imaging!
Standard Vesta Pro, and after my SC modification with cooling and long exposure
SAC8: as my interest grew, I soon outgrew the modified webcam (as well as the small scope) and bought the latest and greatest in affordable astro cameras - the SAC8. This is a highly sensitive black and white camera that could image a dim object in just a few seconds and have it show up clearly on the screen. If you wanted to take color images, you would have to take 3 times as many photos (one shot for each RGB color) and combine them in photoshop or other software. I was then thinking of upgrading again to the SAC10 camera which had just come out, when a friend talked me into a Canon DSLR instead (more on this one in a moment).
SAC8 camera with all the goodies
Meade DSI: My next camera is the Meade DSI which came out in 2004 as a good beginner camera for long exposure imaging. The camera is color, not quite as sensitive as the SAC8, and doesn't have the peltier cooling. It seems to stay cool fairly well with the "cooling fins" on the back of it though. This camera has very few hot-pixels compared with my SAC8 and the webcam. It also takes a bit more computer power and requires USB 2.0, otherwise focusing would be so slow you would go totally crazy! I got this camera shortly before I bought the Canon camera, so I'm working on using this as a good autoguding camera. I used this camera for autoguiding the images I took at the Table Mountain Star Party in 2005 and it worked great out in the field.
Canon 10D: My newest and favorite camera (for deep sky at least) is the Canon 10D. The Canon DSLRs are rapidy gaining popularity with astronomers since it works very well for long exposures at less than 1/4 of the cost of a fancy astrocamera such as the Starlight Expess or SBIG series. It is a lot more sophisticated than all my other cameras combined, but surprisingly it has been the easiest camera I have used so far. If you can get the scope tracking well, simply open the shutter for a few minutes and it's nearly almost guaranteed to come up with a pretty decent image. No fussing with gain settings, contrast, or very uneven background gradients. I think this camera will last me a little bit longer than the SAC8, but I did say the same thing about telescopes too!
Deep sky comparisons between camerasHere are a few photos taken with each of my cameras to illustrate the imprvoements in imaging that I have done over the years. Most of it is just learning from mistakes - and I have done many of those!