I promised to share, so this is what I heard:
Liz Wuerffel (video artist/teacher) said:
Sony Handycam DCR-HC40
The review say that for the price, it performs well in low-light. Has a 1MP resolution.
Reviews say impressive video quality for the price, decent low-light performance. Resolution is 0.54 MP, so it's considerably less than the sony and it costs more. But the user reviews are better.
I've used a Canon that runs around $300, and while it works fine in most situations, it's not very good in low-light. I haven't used the Sony or Panasonic, but they both get top reviews for the price.
I'd suggest investing in a second battery for any camcorder you buy.
Clover (performance artist) said:
Canon Elura 100 is what we use at SAIC for a low-end nice camera. You can find them for sale around $300-400 too.
Liz Winfield (performance/video artist & videographer) said:
Well, my choice would be the Canon Elura as it has a great lens and all the bells and whistles for a decent price. If that runs too high you can go with the Canon ZR series. Those are good and reliable. My problem with Sony is that they tend to use proprietary cables and connectors and that is annoying - esp. if you travel and find yourself without a cable and have to hunt high and low for one. With Canon you can just go to the nearest Radio Shack and grab one for cheap. I would also agree with Elizabeth about the extra battery...you'll get about an hour out of the one that comes with the camera and for performance stuff that isn't always enough. An extra battery, cheap fluid head tripod and a nice case are good investments. Sometimes you can get a cool package deal on all of it.
Elizabeth Ross (multimedia/video artist) said:
What I can advise is a sony. It is a good machine, and you can find a new one for that price. You can shoot by night and take pics (stills); just be sure EVERYTHING works...
Chela (visual/performance artist) said:
Three chip cameras offer excellent quality, might have to pay a little more but worth it. I have a panasonic NV-GS500 3ccd camera, I like it so far. I still have a lot to figure out on the camera, but so far so good.