First things first, Airsoft is a sport for those willing to get hurt, dirty, and at times, a few hundred dollars poorer. If you cant handle those, then airsoft may not be for you. With all things, there is variation though. My first airsoft gun was an HFC P99 Spring model. I was 11 at the time, it was only $19.99, and it was enough for a skirmish with my friends. The reason I said all that is that I don't want to discourage anyone based on a price limit. As for getting hurt, I never had any protection when I started Airsoft, except cotton clothing, but a vest can go cheap on the market with foam inserts that will absorb most bb impacts without too much trouble. Those can go for about $39.99, but it's not neccesary. A bb traveling at 300fps (Feet Per Second) is about the same as a bee sting. I would know, I shot myself in the hand once during my starting years. As for getting dirty, its likely only to happen if you're in a skirmish. Many Airsoft fields consist of forested areas, wetlands, and swamps on occasion. Taking precautions to stay clean can be costly when on the move. Remember, a shower and a trip to the laundromat can fix you right up, if you're a fashion perfectionist like myself when it comes to Camoflauge and BDU's (Battle Dress Uniforms) like myself, just flip them inside out before washing to keep the cloth in good condition.
Let's be honest. Every hobby has it's price, and Airsoft is no exception. But remember this, and don't disregard this at the risk of being disappointed. If you want something that will last, and that you can be proud of, be willing to pay for it. In an Airsoft gun, you want to avoid, and look for certain brands before you buy. ABSOLUTELY AVOID: Cyma, CSI, Double Eagle, Well, and ANY Airsoft that claims to be an "Exact clone/replica" of another brand, regardless of what it is. If you buy a replica of a good brand, you most likely got a brand listed above. If you got a replica of one of the brands listed above, my sympathies. TRY TO GET: Tokyo Marui, Classic Army, ICS, Maruzen, and various other smaller companies. If you are unsure of the gun's quality, check the price. If you see multiple sellers selling it at a similar price, consider it. If one sells higher than another, to a unreasonable degree, assume that he is ripping people off, and avoid him. Nothing can beat research, so check websites other than Ebay. Be sure that when comparing, you have the same model of gun, AND the same manufacturer.
Now that we have covered the "Rip-off" versus the "Bang for your Buck" guns, we can move on to the different types of Airsoft guns. There are really only three types of Airsoft guns, at least that I am aware of. These are Spring Powered, Gas Powered, and Electric Powered. Each has different capabilities and as such, the buyer must be aware of what the product will do before he or she purchases it.
Let's start with Spring Powered. These are generally the cheapest of Airsoft guns, and by far the most simple, as well as durable. I recommend these to anyone just starting out, as they require no extensive maintenance unless they break, which they rarely do. The downside to Spring guns are that they are required to be manually re-cocked after each shot, which during a skirmish can be costly. They also are usually weaker than Gas or Electrical Power. Spring Guns can include Pistols, Revolvers, Rifles, Submachine Guns, and Shotguns, and in rarer cases Grenade Launchers (Limited to Tokyo Marui M203).
On to Electric Powered. These are probably the most common of Airsoft guns, almost all automatic rifles are electrics, and are often referred to as AEG's (Automatic Electric Guns). They require more maintenance than a Spring gun, but are far more reliable. Pistols are capable of semi-automatic fire without re-cocking after each shot, as batteries power the slide and automatically cock the gun after each shot. AEG's are capable of fully automatic fire in most cases, and usually have more that one firing mode, such as Fully Automatic (Rapid fire) and Semi-Automatic (Single shot). The downside is really only on the pistol side. The batteries are almost always in the handle of the gun, and so special, awkward magazines (Ammo clips) are required. I've been into Airsoft for years, and I've never seen a pouch that is specially designed for these Magazines. Extra ammo is almost always necessary. Being limited to one magazine could be the difference between (simulated) life or death. I suppose that a downside to AEG's is their price, and need for batteries, but I haven't found it to be bothersome at all. Electric Guns include Rifles, Pistols, occasionally a Sniper, Submachine Guns, and Heavier Machine Guns.
Gas guns are probably the most realistic of all. They require more maintenance, but pack the most punch, and are probably the most helpful. The most common type of gas gun is a pistol. They are usually powered by HFC22 "Green Gas" which can be found almost anywhere. Most have recoil, giving them a more realistic feel to them, and almost all are Semi-Automatic. The bad thing about gas guns are that they require special magazines to contain gas, and thus are more expensive, but are not oddly shaped like electric gun magazines and can fit in regular pouches. They also require the most maintenance. Probably the worst is that they are the most expensive. Remember, you get what you pay for. If you use a Gas Powered Airsoft gun in a skirmish, bring extra gas, you may need it. Gas Guns include Rifles, Pistols, Revolvers, Snipers, Submachine Guns, Grenade Launchers (Gas Powered Shells) and Shotguns.
Whatever you decide to do with Airsoft, just have fun! If you're not having fun, try selling your gun and buying a different type. Sometimes just testing a different role can change your entire outlook. Try joining or even making your own Airsoft team. Google "Airsoft" and maybe where you live, try and find people near you who share your interest, or an Airsoft Field that's close by. Talk to your friends, ask them if they want to try this, but ALWAYS be sure to notify law enforcement of any Airsoft events in rural areas! I had a cop called on me the same day I shot myself in the hand (Listed above...). I was inside at the time, Airsoft guns look IDENTICAL to real guns, except for an orange tip. DO NOT risk getting arrested, or worse, shot. NEVER remove the orange tip, or paint over it. It is there for your safety.
Lastly, here are a few rules that you should follow to avoid injury or death: (1.) DO NOT remove or paint over the orange tip of an airsoft gun. While metal flash hiders are available, colored identically to the real firearm's, I DO NOT recommend buying them. The orange tip is for law enforcement to understand the gun is a toy. If they cannot tell, they may shoot first, and they don't use bb's. (2.)ALWAYS wear eye protection when using Airsoft guns. Sunglasses and Glasses aren't going to cut it, a weak gun will probably shatter them. Use a full face mask if possible, paintball masks will work fine. Goggles work too, but bb's can chip teeth if you're not careful. Be SURE your eye protection is going to stop a bb. More expensive goggles are better that being blind. (3.) NEVER carry your gun in public, the orange tip is NOT that big, if anyone mistakes it, you're still screwed. (4.) I hear all the time of people misusing Airsoft guns in crimes. I heard this line once, I didn't make it, but I find it very wise. "Many people are concerned about the use of airsoft guns in crimes. A criminal is a criminal and will use whatever means they can to break the law. I would prefer a less dangerous criminal with an airsoft gun to a criminal armed with a real gun and the capability to kill innocent people." That is NOT saying to commit a crime, it is saying that an airsoft gun is NOT a dangerous tool in the hands of someone responsible. I would give out the name of the person who said this phrase, but I read it on a forum. I have no idea who they are.