if you are on a mac, final cut ist imho the way to go and for "beginners", final cut express is a nice programm, but even with imovie you can do quite a lot of nice editing, and if you get into it deeper, you will want to get fcp studio. I have been with fcp since version 1 and it is just a joy to use.
For cameras I would definitly go for HD Video, maybe used, even if most people can't watch it on their tvs (if it gets broadcasted). But for showing your movies on the net, the extra size is nice and everybody has those big screens and is looking for the fullscreen button...
For macro work I think I would get a 1/3" chip cam, will help you a lot with dof. With a Nikon (which would be in your pricerange) or Canon DSLR, macro work will become really hard in those times you wan't everything in focus.