What would be the best digital camcorder for filming ski footage of my students on the slopes? Compact, optical zoom, easy buttons, a viewfinder or great screen that works in bright light, internal memory or flash memory, etc. Thanks!
Boy, that's a thicket—the camcorder market, that is. So many things to sort through.
I guess the basic question should be: Do you want a camera that fits in your pocket, or one that maybe needs a small pack? If the former, then you might like the Sanyo VPC-CA102YL ($360), although how you remember that name is beyond me. It's a super-compact (pocket-size) digital camcorder that uses SD flash cards, with a five-power optical zoom and up to 12x digital zoom. Nice flip-out viewing screen. And...it's waterproof! That could be come in handy.
You might also like Sony's MHS-CM5/V ($170), another pocketable design that uses SD cards or memory sticks with five-power optical zoom and 2.5-inch flip-out LCD viewer. It uses a video format specifically designed to downloading for use on PCs or the web, which may be handy.
If you go with a bit larger camera, you gain a ton of functionality. JVC's GZHD320BUS ($400) records to a 120mb hard drive, has a 20x optical zoom, and of course shoots hi-def. Really, it's a very small camera at three pounds, with dimensions that are just a little more than 2 X 4.5 X 2.7".
Another great camera in that range is the Panasonic HDC-HS60K ($555). It also records to a hard drive, which is a pretty good storage route so long as you don't whack it too hard and it also takes SD cards. It offers full HD, fantastic image sensor, and 25x optical zoom. Bigger than the JVC, but still very compact and would fit nicely in a small pack. Sony's HDR-XR150 has almost identical specs at an almost identical price.
Stop by a camera store and try a few out, see how the buttons feel, that sort of thing. All take really great video, so it's apt to come down to what fits your hand the best.