Going to an art school, I’ve used 3DS Max and Maya. I’ve also used Blender at home or when I feel like logging into Linux in the computer arts building and messing around a bit
I can tell you that there are some features that are good about all packages and some features that are not so good. Maya, in my opinion, has the best NURBs support of the three packages and dominates the market. However, it also has the highest cost of all three. And I don’t like it’s UV tools, although I’ve heard they’ve changed in version 7. Also, a lot of the functions don’t have default hot keys, you have to make them yourself or otherwise keep going back to the Hot Box menu. It’s a hassle if you want to view some scenes from an orthogonal view that’s not Front, back, side, top, or bottom. This is something that both 3DS Max and Blender let you do, but not Maya.
3DS Max has a less cluttered interface of the three. It’s cheaper than Maya, but still expensive. The general consensus in the Maya V. 3DS Max debate is that some tools are easier to use, but not quite as powerful as they are in Maya. It’s UVing tools are more varied and easier to utilize. However, it took them 8 versions to finally figure out that they need to have native support for exporting UVs! I’m not sure why it took them so long to implement it.
Blender is (obviously) free. I think the biggest factor that makes people over look Blender is that it is free-- it’s the idea that you pay for what you get. A lot people have the notion that if something is free, it’s not as good as the product you have to plop down money for (this goes for things outside of software too! Ever been offered a free car?). The other factor is that some people are scared by its interface. It definitely takes some time to get used to. I do like Blender’s modelling, Sub Surface options, and UVing tools. Personally, I’d like to be able to define my own hot keys without physically changing the source code, but that’s just me
Overall, no matter what package you use, you will find that they are all awesome in some ways and lacking in others. It’s a matter of which one you’re willing to put up with and if you can afford it. I encourage you to try the trial versions of as many packages as you can. Don’t plop down money yet until you are sure that you are comfortable with the software.