So, just to take stock of the situation, i went down to my local Circuit City and spent the morning at the camcorder table, listening to the sales pitches from the staff, and messing around with a few dozen featured devices.
Sure enough, there are a bunch of MiniDV camcorders still available, many very good, but they are priced (around $200-$300) to move. Not a great sign, although the salesrep did mention that if I was "into editing" that it might be a good choice. Also priced to dump were the cameras that recorded to various forms of DVD-like disc. I was never into these for a number of reasons - both logical and emotional - and was steered by the salesrep and the architecture of the display itself to explore the Hard Disc recording camcorders.
NOTE: One must be exceptionally careful with these "HD"devices, for the "HD" stamped on the outside is not the High Definition "HD" you might be looking for. They use "Full HD" to refer to high definition video (usually accompanied by a resolution measurement); and "HDD" to refer to "Hard Disc Device" recording. And there are a number of high-quality HD HDD camcorders - the top of the line in fact are of this variety.
If I was going to trade up I would go from my 3-Chip workhorse, the Sony TRV-900 (circa 1998) (measurably more attractive images than from the one-chip varieties more common); and move to a 30-80GB hard disc (I think i'd rather smaller, but that's my first impression) 3-Chip High Definition camera, probably from Sony. These range in the $1000-$1200 range, a little LESS than what I got my TRV for a decade ago. I had come to Circuit City thinking that even a lousy HD camera is going to be better quality than my Sony, so trade size and cost for resolution, and get a mid-range high def -- spending $500-$800. It's still a lot, but not for a great camera. I just spent in that range for an excellent Digital SLR (mine is from Olympus, but it's an old brand attraction from my youth), and that's just an SLR. This is a high def camcorder.
They seem to be touting how much video can be recorded on these camcorders. At standard def a 40GB camcorder can hold something like 10-30 hours, but at High Def it's in the range of 5-10 hours.
Still: 10 hours is an organizational nightmare. You don't want 10 hours in a load, do you??? Breath. Think. Is this antiquated values washing their inertial old school bodies on a new value proposition? Or is it learned wisdom from years of experience? Think. Think.
I have a day or so to figure out (a) what kind of camcorder would I want for myself. I cannot advise if i'm not in the game for real. And what other kind of camcorder should I check out seriously, that might not be what i'd naturally choose for myself but represents a fairly typical purchase of consumers interested in video, but not all that confident in whether they liked the hobby or not... Would they get an $800 Sony or would they get a $450 Panasonic? Would you pay for High Def?
This is what I'm thinking about today.