I'm fairly new to astronomy(3-4 yrs) and have no interest or experience with astrophotography but I'll share my opinion anyway.
You may want to consider one of the small refractors from Stellarvue (or similar respected high quality company) and one of their alt-az or eq mount packages.
1. A small refractor is the most often recommended by the experts for beginners.
2. The stellarvue equipment is high quality and always gets great reviews. This company seems to have some of the best quality-control and finishing of the affordable refractor sellers.
3. I would say you need to put in about 6 months to a year of work into learning the equipment and the night sky even if your primary interest is astrophotography.
4. A heck of a lot of seasoned amateur astronomers always seem to end up with a good to v.high quality small refractor in their collection and often use it more than anything else. And if you end up not wanting it it will have a good resell value (to me hehe).
5. You can actually see alot thru it in your backyard and it will shine on moon, planets, open clusters and double stars. When you go to a dark site the low magnification views will be stunning.
6. Tons of resources for backyard viewing with small scopes, including an essential beginners book "Turn left at orion".
9. Low maginification views -- often overlooked by beginners.
10. You can do some nice astrophotography thru it.
11. On nights of iffy seeing a small scope tends can be preferable as larger apertures as they tend to amplify the instabilty.
12. You can join your local astro-club, bring it along to the parties get respect; then spend your time looking through the other folks very expensive scopes
14. They're cool.
15. It suits your budget.
I'm sure there are other reasons too -- but thats what first comes mind.
(Oh -- and you sould get a nice 2x barlow and nice 5mm(or similar) e.p.) plus a good chart, red flashlight and all the other little essentials.
caveat -- this gear should be good for beginning astrophotography, BUT, I believe a polar alignement scope is important for this (other experienced astromarters can help here). Not sure if the mounts have that -- you can ask the sellers tho'.
As for the astrophotography, your best bet would be to join a club and hang out with the folks who are into that. You can probably join in on their sessions and help a bit or something. I find that most of the club-folks are MORE than happy to share their passion/obsession with interested newcomers. Then you can get an idea of what you like/need and how much it will cost in the future, also the club-folks are always selling/trading their equipment -- they even have meets for that, so you save big $$$s.
I sure you will throughly enjoy visual when you start getting into it with your own cool equipment tho'.
I'm in no way affiliated or anything with Stellarvue -- just heard some good things about them and the reviews are always very positive (check out www.cloudynights.com). I don't have one of theie scopes either
. But I do have an orion st80 which is like a lesser quality version and I use it alot.(but you have rather a nice budget so you can afford better). I also have a 8" dob.
Hope this helps, and some of the other astromarts post their opinions of my recommendation.
But whatever you get, get it soon coz Summers coming and the skies are getting rich!!
Good luck and have fun!