My husband and I will be climbing in Patagonia this Christmas. As a pre-trip, pre-holiday present, I'd like to buy him a ccorder. Can you recommend a good model, one that's compact and burly enough for a week in the outdoors? Margaret Chattanooga, Tennessee
Case in point: the Panasonic SV-AV100. It's literally pocket-sized and weighs only 6.7 ounces. Yet it has a 2.5-inch LCD monitor and a ten-power optical zoom. It achieves this sub-atomic size feat by using SD memory cards rather than any sort of tape cassette. One 512-megabyte card gives you anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours of recording time, depending on the settings you use. And SD cards are supremely compact, so taking extras is no hardship. I mean, think of it, you could be climbing some heinous Patagonia peak, clinging precariously to some icy rock face, and your husband/belayer could easily one-hand this camera out of his parka pocket for a compelling, close-up shot of your anguished, fear-wracked face as you scream, "I said, rope up, you freaking bastard!" What could be better to show the kids at home.
Anyway, price for this little baby is $800 or so, depending on where you shop (www.panasonic.com).
For something a little less radical, Canon's Optura 40 offers a palm-sized camcorder that uses MiniDV tapes, which may on balance be easier to manage than transferring digital recordings off the Panasonic. And the Optura is a terrific little camera, with a 14x zoom and Canon's excellent image stabilizer setup. Street price is around $750 (www.usa.canon.com).
A third good choice is Sony's HC40, which like the Canon, uses MiniDV digital tapes. It's back to a 10x zoom and lacks an image stabilizer, but compensates with an excellent Zeiss lens and compact size and weight (one pound). Street price of about $550.
One caveat: None of these cameras is exactly bulletproof. Sure, they're well-made and sturdy, but they're not designed to bounce down a glacier (nor are we, I suppose). So get a good case as well—something like LowePro's D-Res 25 AW ($25; www.lowepro.com), a weatherproof, padded case specifically designed for compact digital camcorders.
Have a great trip!