I recently had a question come to me on Twitter about suggestions when buying her first sewing machine. Hooray for craftiness!
Sewing machines and one of those subjects that if you sew, you have an opinion about. It's kind of like asking somebody what's a good first car for a new driver... it just kind of depends.
I grew up learning the and around Singer machines, so this is what I know best. When I decided to take lessons to increase my technical skill in sewing, the classroom had Singer machines. I know them well, they are comfortable to me.
For the new sewer who wants to work on a project here and there or do some casual work with a machine that has some flexibility, I'll play favorites.
From the outset, I don't know that the two machines functionally are very different. I've worked on both machines in workrooms, and they seem to be pretty standard in classrooms. Simply put, they do the job in a not too terribly finicky way. They are simple, they thread easily, drop-in bobbin, and button hole stitching that is easy enough to get after a few practice tries.
When you get to the point where you are making clothes regularly and want to develop a more finished look, I'd start to look at sergers (the machines that stitch to enclose the edges... take a look on the inside seam of your shirt to see what I mean). Again for the less than commercial sewer (most of us), you won't need anything too intense or even a 5-thread machine. I personally own a Janome machine, and really do love it.