I am asked frequently from students and customers what type of sewing machine they should buy. I know that when you go to a sewing machine store they want to sell you their top of the line model with 5 million stitches and computer compatibility for the low low price of $6,000. When you go to Hancocks, should you get an educated salesperson they will direct you to whatever is their personal favorite that day. So I want to give you some shopping tips, not specific model suggestions.
There are the top known brands Singer, Brother, and Janome. There are a ton of others as well. I personally use an Elna now, but own five other Singers and a Brother. All are good brands and all usually have local support in larger cities. Brand isn't an issue that I worry with as I haven't found a full sized sewing machine by any brand that wasn't a decent machine.
Usually machines will list the number of stitches they have, ranging from 1 to 1,000. Well I guess they get that high to be honest the sky is the limit based on what you are doing or want to do. For beginners I suggest starting with a straight forward machine with about 20 stitches the most important being straight stitch, zig zag, and button hole. If you can find or want to spend the money for the automatic button hole DO IT! I swear to you it is more than worth the extra you pay for the one buttonhole you ever sew!
I never suggest people purchasing craft or mini machines. I know people want to get them for their kids and they are cheaper, but they are also made cheaper and I find that students that have these tend to run out space to sew as they progress. Where as if you get a full sized machine first you can make that machine last longer as your skills improve.
Again like stitches you can go from $100 to $50,000, probably more. I sewed for probably 15+ years on a machine purchased for me at a pawn shop for $100. It was a work horse and still is in the sewing classroom, but eventually I just decided that an upgrade was reasonable. I suggest that beginners spend between $100-200. If they find that they really will take to sewing and want to get something nicer in the future that is great, but if you spend $2,500 and then never really use the machine it is a waste of your money.
I hope this gives you some starting places to work from. If you have questions I will be happy to answer them. I have used a ton of machines, and haven't really met a machine I didn't like.