Violins are generally either factory made (at the beginner / starter level), or handcrafted (from a few hundred dollars up to multi-million pound italian antiques!). Nowadays, some of the best factory instruments are very well made indeed, especially when they are hand-finished and set up by experienced luthiers.
If you're starting to play from the very beginning, then a 'beginner violin outfit' is probably more than adequate for the first few months (or even years!) of learning. This feature article explains all about what beginner outfits are, and what to look for, including some useful checklists:
When to Upgrade
A good principle is to start your learning with a basic instrument, and then upgrade when you feel that your playing is starting to be limited by your existing instrument. The more sophisticated the violin, the more 'tone colours' and types of sound you're going to be able to create from the sound.
Your imagination is the key here; if you can imagine it, you can refine your technique until you can create it. As well as acquiring the technique (which we're going to guide you through, later in this guide!) you also need to make sure that your violin has adequate capability for generating the sound that you're aiming for.
In the early months of learning, you won't need to worry about this, as you'll be focused on generating a beautifully smooth, consistent basic sound - for which a beginner outfit is more than adequate. But once you've mastered that and you begin to think more about expression and variety of tone production, then you'll want a more powerful, richer-sounding instrument to help you do that.
High end instruments
Violins are beautiful things, and there's a whole market in instruments that's aimed at the collector. Prices run quickly from thousands into tens of thousands, and onwards to hundreds of thousands(!) of dollars. The world of violin collecting and dealing is a strange and wonderful (and sometimes terrible) place, which can be endlessly fascinating - especially if you develop a love of the craft and the history too.
If you're already an experience player, you might well already be experimenting with this exciting world, and we'll touch on it more in the future... but it's important to keep the right perspective and priorities, and for that reason we recommend at this point in your learning journey, not to get too obsessed about the instrument itself.
Once your playing technique is solidly consistent and reliable, and your performance skills are secure and well-established, then you'll be in a much better position to make decisions about instruments at every end of the value spectrum!
Other Types of Violins
There are several sub-types of instrument that you may want to be aware of depending on the styles and genre that interest you. Although there's no fundamental difference between a fiddle and a violin - they're different names for the same instrument - the word 'fiddle' is more colloquially used in folk music circles, whereas 'violin' would be a more common name for an instrument that's set up for classical music.
Often, the difference between instrument sub-types can be in the setup; for example, people who specialise in playing Baroque music might talk about having a 'baroque violin', but what this often means is that the instrument has been set up with gut strings (instead of metal strings), and is tuned to a different pitch.
Depending on the context in which a violin or bow is being used, you might also find a variety of different materials being used (especially if the violin is electronic or amplified). Here's ViolinSchool's Simon Hewitt Jones trying out an early prototype of a '3D Printed Violin' in 2011: