I recently started a photography class and I really like it, and I want to start taking photos outside of school with my own camera but I don’t know what to get. I love taking close up pictures of bugs and other nature stuff like flowers and maybe even wildlife if I can, so preferably something that can zoom in and auto focus. I want to get very close up to bugs to get every single detail on them. So something that doesn’t limit me to how close I get. UPDATE: I will ask my teacher for suggestions since I do like the cameras we use in his class. Thank you for all the suggestions I appreciate it and I will be getting a macro lens eventually.
Your requirements - extreme close-up work and auto-focus - won't always be compatible.
Extreme close-up work, or macro photography (work in which the image captured is larger than the object itself) also doesn't really depend on the camera as much as the lens (though it does exclude certain types of camera - a rangefinder is not very suitable for macro photography, because you need a more accurate viewfinder at very close distances).
You haven't said whether you want to use film or a digital camera, but either way, pretty much any SLR will be suitable, because all offer a range of lenses, and as long as you can get a macro lens, that will do what you need. The Wikipedia page I link to above includes a table of some macro lenses, that will help you compare them.
There are other options, such as reversing rings that will allow ordinary lenses to be used for macro photography - but it's probably going to be a more satisfactory experience to use a dedicated macro lens.
Even a modest SLR will be fine; if you decide that you want to spend more in the future, you'll still have your lenses and other equipment.
The other question is auto-focus. By all means, auto-focus may be useful for your general work, but for macro work, it will often actually be more useful to have good manual control (auto-focus won't always know which particular petal of a flower you want in focus...).
For good manual focus control, a film camera, or a digital camera with a larger sensor and therefore larger, brighter viewfinder, will be better. (I find it very hard to focus without the aid of a focusing patch in the viewfinder; only you will know how well you can do this.)
There may be other modern cameras other than SLRs that are equally suitable, but I am not familiar with them and will have to leave others to comment.
A lightweight tripod should also be accounted for in your budget, and perhaps a reflector.
I don't think you need to worry that any camera you buy will be suitable for a beginner - you'll find that your camera operating skills quickly become honed with practice, whatever you get or use, and you'll need to develop some manual operating skills for your work anyway. However, just about any modern camera will also be suitable for point-and-shoot photography when you want to do that, and will give you excellent results.
It's definitely worth asking your teacher for an opinion, as another answer suggests - but rather than starting by asking which particular camera or equipment to get, I would ask what kind of camera, lenses and so on will suit your needs.
The main problem in macro-photography is the depth of field, so the shorter the lens the better. From this point of view, the best camera for macro is your phone. But:
- macro-photography also means relative low-light pictures so the phone's firmware is going to do bizarre things to compensate.
- you cannot get really close.
Next up is the compact/bridge camera with somehow the same problems. But the firmware will be less aggressive (you can even find cameras with RAW capabilities) and you can find close-up lenses that aren't too shabby (Raynox, for instance, or some original brand accessory, but it is often somewhat more expensive). I took my first satisfying shots with a Lumix FZ8 fitted with a Raynox.
Above that you enter the world of cameras with interchangeable lenses. Keeping the sensor small (APS-C or four-thirds) will help you keep some depth of field. For macro you have a wide range of options.
The most inexpensive one is the extension tube. It mounts between the camera and the lens. The less expensive ones may have too much slack and make the lens a bit de-centered (especially if you combine them).
A close-up lens that mounts as a filter on a "standard" lens. Canon sells very good ones for less than a dedicated macro lens, and they take less space in you bag. My first "wow!" shot was done with such a lens on a very plain and inexpensive 55-250mm.
Both have the inconvenient of making the camera myopic, you can see close but the max focus distance is no longer infinity but under 50cm/two feet. This is complicated when you shoot bugs hand-held in nature because this also applies to your viewfinder. You cannot progressively get closer, you have to get at the right distance directly (and not too close, otherwise the bug flies off... unless it is a spider but this is even worse:)).
- Then you have macro lenses, that can focus from infinity down to sufficiently close for a 1:1 ratio. None of them are zooms, because instead of zooming you can just get close. This is the tool of choice. The simpler lenses are not very expensive.
What camera do you want with that?
- A camera that has usable high ISO, because to get some depth of field you will want small apertures
- A camera that can control flashes because sooner of later you will try that (even if for nature photo natural light is usually better)
- If you do still shots, you use manual focus, likely checking on the camera screen (this means a very good tripod/support by the way...)
- If you do hand-held nature shots, you need a very good autofocus: your camera has six degrees of liberty, 3 orientation angles and 3 positions. The stabilization in the lens (or body) usually take care of the 3 angles. The Canon 100ms IS Macro can also deal with lateral position shift. The remaining free degree is your distance to the subject, and if you shoot hand-help, this is the hardest to control: you are shooting with a couple of millimeters of DoF so you shouldn't move you body by more than half a millimeter while handling two pounds of camera. Good luck with that. So use AI focus, shoot a burst, and cross fingers.