Well, thats an interesting question. Certainly, video cameras such as the Sony DCR-SR42 ($450; sony.com), which store video on a hard drive, offer some real advantages over tape-based camcorders. No juggling tapes or other recording media, for one thing. And they have essentially unlimited recording capacity without buying anything extrathat is, assuming you can get to a PC or notebook and offload your video files. The DCR-SR42 has about seven hours of storage capacity, which I should think would suffice for a day of filming on the slopes.
On the down side, hard drives are more mechanically complex than tapes. That means theyre probably more apt to break down. And in a fairly stressful environment, such as bouncing down a snowboard slope, that could be an issue. Im inclined to say thats the same hurdle facing DVD-based units such as the Sony DCR-DVD308 ($400). DVD-recorded videos also are somewhat more challenging to edit. On the other hand, MiniDV is technology thats more than a decade old, and is getting a little long in the tooth as camcorder makers focus their efforts on newer recording formats.
So what to do? Im inclined to say that you start with a proven technology, such as MiniDV. The Panasonic PV-GS320 ($375; panasonic.com) is a good starting point, with image stabilization (useful!), Leica lens, 10x zoom and many more features. MiniDV tapes are reliable and inexpensive, and its easy to get your video onto a PC for editing.
But long term, think of HDV, the high-def alternative to MiniDV. Right now thats a more expensive alternative, with most camcorders around $800 (an exception: Canons Canon HV10, a very compact unit that goes for around $550). These cameras use a tape that looks like a MiniDV but allows a higher recording level for better definition. If you get serious about making videos, its what youre going to want.
The 2008 Winter Outside Buyers Guide is now online. From snow sports to trail-running to camping, get reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves.