I got my first camcorder about two weeks ago, a Canon ZR850. It is a miniDV camcorder instead of a hard drive camera (never ever DVD for me) for two reasons: (1) the price (like a $175+ difference) and (2) the brand.
As of right now, Canon does not offer any hard drive cameras, but Sony, JVC, and Panasonic already do. I really like the Canon ZR Series because it is really affordable. With the 2-year replacement warranty, it cost me a little over $360 for the camera. I also purchased some miniDV tapes though ($13 for five tapes — any brand will do), a Belkin firewire cable (to transfer the tape to the computer, camera didn’t come with it — that was $14), and a Samsung camcorder bag (which fits my Olympus camera essentials as well! — got it at Wal-mart for $18).
I first taped me and Babe at home doing absolutely nothing, but then taped Prentyce’s championship game with UFB. The video quality was surprisingly good (no HD, but it’ll work since I don’t have an HD television), but I was lucky to have good lighting that day. The zooming worked great (35x?!); there are three zoom speeds you can choose from. I chose the middle one, not too fast or slow. The camcorder was easy to hold, but my hand started cramping up after a while… maybe it was just excitement? The battery that came with the camcorder lasts you about 45-60 minutes, I suggest getting the BP-2L14 battery, (get the original if you can, but the generic ones cost about $30 less) which is said to last about 3 hours but will cost you $55 from Amazon. The menus were easy to understand, I could easily find a lot of stuff, most of which you just set one time and forget. You need an SD card if you want to take still shots. Although they aren’t that good, nice to have! Some reviews said the camera had some sort of “humming”, but I didn’t hear it indoors or out. It was easy to import video, you can use Windows Movie Maker to capture or any type of video editing program. I use Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 (it costs about $80 on Amazon) and Final Cut Pro (this is like $1000, but I use it at school).
I think I don’t have that many complaints because it is my first camcorder, but I think it was a good first choice. I’ll get the more expensive one later when I’m a video editing genius, but since I’m only starting out, I’ll stick with this. Don’t expect great things when you don’t pay a hefty price — especially with electronics! Overall, good camera for the price! I love it.