It is all a matter of taste. Coming from a family of master heavy equipment mechanics I like to compare airbrushes to wrenches. Yes Snap-On are nice and they are polished and shiny, but do they do their intended task better than Mac, Proto, or even Craftsman? No they do not. Some perceive them as being better because of marketing and so forth but the truth stands, it is the hand wielding the tool that makes the difference. As I learned in martial arts many years ago, it is the man that makes the art, not the art that makes the man!
I think you just said it all right there, Mike. Take it from the voice of experience - not opinion, people:
I've owned Testors', Badger,generic, and Paasche. I've even used Iwata, and none of these expensive ones were any better than the testors. or Badger. The Paasche was the best in terms of ease of use, cost, flexability and features! I was sold on it,even after using the Iwata, and Thayer and Chandler brands. They just have pretty chrome, and nice built in unchangeable paint cups with the "one size fits all" paint nozzles, and the prestige of the name with the high price tag - nothing much more in terms of being better than anything else I've tried. I borrowed my friends' Paasche VL after all the others broke, or wore out, or other problems that I had with them, and I was instantly satisfied with the results after adjusting it to the spray pattern I needed. This took less than a minute.
I understand people swearing by a certain brand because someone else uses it,and turned them on to it. I also understand those who swear by a certain brand because it's what they're used to thinking that it makes them a better modeler - but experience speaks for itself for many professionals,and amatures alike. Some companies pander to the whims of popular opinion, and offer something flashy, or shiny and attractive (the newer brands do this) in order to establish themselves in the market. This is just a strategy to get you to buy something that you really don't need! I've used airbrushes for over twenty years, and I'm not just posting to win a popularity contest.
Use your best judgement . Ask yourself a few questions before buying:
Are you going to use this all the time?
What medium are you going to use it for?
What type of budget are you setting for how often, or how much you want, or need to use it?
What type of projects are you using it on?
How proficient are you at airbrushing?
What types have you looked at?
Who can you trust to give you a fair, and unbiased opinion?
How well do you know areosol based spray equipment?
What features are you looking for?
What all is required to use this equipment, and how much does it all cost?
Will this be a good return on my investment?
Does the usage really justify the cost?
How easy is it to get replacement parts when something wears out, or breaks?
What kind of warranty does each of these come with?
What kind of paints/solvents are compatible with this airbrush?
Do you need any special equipment to operate this tool safely?
Will this meet my needs?
Do I have to replace parts often?
Who can show me the difference between the brands on a finished project so that I can compare quality?
Most people won't think this through to this degree, but read everything you can about the particular airbrush you're interested in before buying. You don't need the most expensive model to paint professionally. Start out with an inexpensive, or intermediary model that has more than one head, or tip on it,so that you can adjust, and figure out how to change, maintain, and get the most out of your airbrushing experience before graduating to another model, or more expensive brand. A Rolls Royce in the hands of someone who can't drive a stick shift is like giving a scapel to someone, and having them operate! It doesn't make sense to buy the most expensive one when you're starting out. Just because it's expensive, that doesn't mean that it'll make you a great painter, YOU have to make yourself a great painter no matter whos' airbrush you're using.
If you can get a pencil thin line with your airbrush - then that's a good airbrush!!! No one needs a line thinner than that. If you want to write checks with it - a pen will more than suffice! It's impracitcal to think that you need a line any smaller than this, and it also means that if you can get a line this tiny, that you've mastered adjustment of one of these. If you need something smaller - a regular artists' paintbrush will do for something as small as a D&D figurine! This means that you no longer need an airbrush, as this is not what they're made for.
I have a friend that has a Paasche endorsement and I also have a few photos that he sent me using a Paasche on the very projects that got him the endorsement in the first place. I can't post the photos here as they're copywritten, but I can give you the website when I get the URL - I'll post it here.
Here's where you can buy airbrushes of all kinds: WWW.BEARAIR.COM
~ Cobra Chris