Many people have recommended the $400 Canon ZR video cameras.
Options to consider
- Recording media. Digital video tape is usually the cheapest and easiest to deal with.
- External mic input: On-camera mics are designed to be all things and therefore pick up ... well, all things. This includes sound to the side, sound from the camera operator, usually a whole LOT of sound from the camcorder itself and somewhere in there the sound coming from the subject in front of the camera. If you search, you will find this feature on many camcorders at all price ranges. That way, once you get frustrated with the sound quality of the on-camera mic, you have the option of picking up a cheap little shotgun mic or cheap wireless lapel mic for under $150 and get much better sound (or pay a bit more and get great sound). Keeps your options open.
- Video pass-through: This is getting harder to find, but I did find it on the sub-$400 Canon digital video camcorder I bought for home use last year around this time. Video pass-though allows you to hook up a VCR or other video source to your camcorder and use the camcorder as an digital/analog converter, so you can capture video into your computer from other video sources, such as old VHS or beta tapes (good for archiving to digital and slowly getting rid of boxes of old tapes, especially while the older machine are still working). Without this feature, you will need a digital/analog converter box to do this (there start around $200, the last I checked).