I agree with you on the rotary, it is the quickest but has the steepest learning curve. I always recommend someone picks up a junkyard panel to practice on. You do have machines like the Rupes and Flex which offer excellent correction without as much danger. My go to now is Makita for heavy correction followed by the Rupes to remove holgraming or compounding marring. Hell, rupes even has the 1 step compounding/finishing product available now.
For any beginner, a DA (dual action) such as Porter Cable, Griots Garage or Meguiar's are excellent option. Orange and white lake country polishing pads 2-3 of each and something like Meguiars M105 and M205 are a good starting point. There are plenty of guides that can walk you through it.