I have 10 years of experience in wood turning. Hopefully I can help you in buying the right lathe for your needs.
The first thing a person needs to know is what type of turning he will be doing. The reason I say this is because there is a lathe for about everything you can think of.
Table top lathes. First if you are going to do small turnings, there are small table top lathes that really work well. One of my favorite small lathes is made by Jet. These can be bought online, and if there is a woodcraft store in your neighborhood, they have a nice selection.
Medium-sized lathes. The second type of lathe would be a medium size one. These are good for lamps to rolling pins to table legs. My favorite in this type is a craftsman lathe. This is the one I use. It has adjustable speeds for rough turning to high speed sanding.
Bowl turning. Another type of turning is bowl turning. The smaller type lathes can be used for this, but they also have a large lathe made for this. If this is what your main type of turning would be, go ahead and invest in one of these.
After you have decided on what type of lathe you need and what type of turning you will be doing, next thing is to purchase the tools that you will need to do the job. There are so many hand tools that are available for this.