Originally Posted by TOGAFLEX
Welcome to the forum and the hobby.
1:400 scale is a wonderful one to collect - more detail and more features, more impressive than 1:500 but not as expensive or space-consuming as 1:200.
As a rule of thumb, the more research you do on the models out there, the happier you'll be when the parcel turns up. Others have noted that Gemini and Phoenix are excellent manufacturers - this is true.
Gemini are the backbone of post people's collection - mine is approaching 60% GJ, and counting. Their detail and printing is top notch, and they make the "average Joe" stuff which makes them popular amongst fleetbuilders. Their CRJ700 and 900 moulds are absolutely spectacular, as is your first model, the Q400. They do a respectable 777 (although they use the same engine for the GE, PW and RR powerplants which is a shame, but they are not unique in this), and their 737s are good too. As Silk noted above, the only mould they have issues with is the 747-400, as the engines are wrong. Some people have criticised their C17 mould too as having seams that are too pronounced, but its an otherwise excellent mould. My only other issue with them is that they are a US company and very much play to the US crowd - the overwhelming majority of their models are of US airlines. I collect US airlines as well, so its no big deal for me, but some Europeans etc do feel somewhat left out of late.
Phoenix are like GJ in that they are all-metal, and I believe they share a common A319, A320, A321, A340 and A330 mould. Their A380 is the absolute best out there, but their crowning glory is their 77Ws which are probably the finest models yet made in the scale. Put it this way, if there is a more stunningly accurate representation of any aircraft made in 1:400, I have yet to see it in ten years of collecting. They do have a penchant for special schemes and liveries which can get annoying, and they are very Asian-centric, so if you want an Asian carrier, PHX are basically your best bet by default. They do almost no US models, but do do more Europeans than GJ do. Their MD11 mould is also top class as well.
Dragon were the first manufacturer in 1:400 and started with metal fuselages, with plastic wings, tail and removable gear. They also come with stands, so you can display them either way. Their A320-series moulds are awful, and their A330 and A340 have got better but are still not in the same league as their metal counterparts in my opinion. However, they do have some moulds that are excellent. Their Tristar is a very old mould but is easily the finest Tristar made by anyone, and the only one that can touch the Phoenix 77W for accuracy. Sadly it, and its stablemate DC10 (which is very nearly as good and itself the best DC10 out there) are very rarely used these days but older models are still relatively easy to get hold of, and remain huge favourites of anyone who has one. Their 747s are, in my opinion, absolutely top notch as well. The plastic wings work well on some models better than others, but they do very much so on the 747, especially the -400. Detail is great, and they released a lot of 747s, and continue to do so. The removable gear is a lovely touch. Lastly, their MD80-series mould is blinding as well - really excellent. Jet-X used to use Dragon's moulds for their models until a couple of years ago, and they released some really interesting stuff, not least the fabled Braniff, PSA and American Airlines releases that are very much sought after.
JC Wings are a new entrant to the market and are very much a trailblazer. They are the only ones doing new moulds right now, although I'm told GJ is working on more this year. JC have a Saab 340 mould, and a Dash 8-100 mould. Both are excellent. Their Shorts 360 is also a tiny little beauty - greatly recommended. They released the Il86 to great acclaim, and I think they share the mould with GJ. People point to their 777s as not up to much, but to mind they are still better than the Dragon versions, and on a par with the early GJs. They do some very popular and important liveries, and if you cant afford US$150+ for a Cathay or Singapore 77W, then they are the only game in town. Yes, the cockpit windows arent great but otherwise they are nice little models and they certainly dont get the respect they deserve round here.
Herpa have improved massively. Five or six years ago they were dead last in the quality stakes, with a lot of plastic being used, not enough detail, and in particular their Trent-powered A330 mould is an absolute horror. Since then they've improved beyond all recognition. They do absolutely the best 737 out there - bar none. All metal now, super detailed, and with scaled gears that leave GJ et al in the dust. As mentioned above their 757 is the best out there I think - in particular the wingletted ones. They are the only manufacturer i know of that actually makes a GE90 look like a GE90, and their 777s have always been decent, but their new 77W mould is just breathtaking. Is it as good as the Phoenix? Hard to say. My personal feeling is no, just solely because they dont use it enough, but some on here think the Herpa is actually better. Have a look for yourself. I would also contend that Herpa's A320 is the best in 1:400. An absolute marvel. They are also the only maker who has a ERJ or A318 mould right now, and it borders on the criminal that neither are used past the two of each that have been released thus far. Hopefully GJ will release their own in both types this year, but until that happens, Herpa are the only game in town.
Other makers to look out for are AV400 (excellent 747s), BigBird400 (again, excellent 747s, and BA world tails specialist), and Hogan (very good A340s from a new entrant to the 1:400 market).
As far as retailers go - the sales/trade part of this site is good, but my advice is to choose a seller and remain loyal to him as much as possible - this helps you get a degree of preferential treatment when it comes to new releases and pre-orders etc. Stay off Ebay as much as you can - there are a lot of bandits out there who are just out to absolutely rape the hobby and anyone foolish enough to buy planes off them (cough cough ToysKingToys cough cough) - they charge high prices on models they've stockpiled to drive prices up, and then charge you daylight robbery on postal charges that have absolutely no resemblance to actual costs. But sadly, if you want the rare stuff, you have to buy from them because they have greedily snaffled and then stockpiled the releases and nobody else gets a decent look-in, unless you have everything on pre-order from your retailer, and even then its not guaranteed.