Question

Best affordable camcorder for recording stage plays?

My son has his first lead role in a high school play and I want to get the best audio and video I can afford. I have a Sony Webbie (I think, Sony for sure, purple skin) that I bought about 4 years ago. I used it last spring and it had issues with light changes on the stage, losing focus on primary character. The audio was only so-so. It was the first time I had tried it in a dark environment. Seemed really good for outdoor sports or well lit rooms.
This time I want to be able to hear what my son says so I'm guessing a directional mic addition. However, could I do much better with a new camera and stay under $500? No time to order it online for delivery. Need to walk into a store and walk out to start my cameraman role.

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Answer
We don't know where you are,

so we don't know which retailers you get to shop with the online option removed.

The least expensive camcorder, of which I am aware, with a mic jack is the Canon HF R500 (discontinued) or the HF R600 (the R500's replacement). A shotgun mic like the affordable Audio Technica ATR6550 may help - we don't know where, in the audience, you'll be.

Use of a tripod is *strongly* suggested.

If you get an external mic and need it mounted to the camcorder (and the camcorder has no accessory shoe, just add one
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005Z4ROIW
I know you can't do online - just using this as an example of what you'll need in the way of a camera bracket - yes, there should be a 14" x 20 hole in the bottom of the mounting screw so after you attach it to the camcorder's tripod mount, you mount everything to the tripod.

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Generally the Jacksonville, FL area. Most any store...

The tri-pod is an absolute, no way my hands are steady enough to record for an hour and a half. Bought one last year for that reason.
Last play I sat through 3 shows. I recorded each from different areas; far left second section, far right second section, and middle second section about 10 rows back. This time I will want to get at least one show up close middle section since he's the lead. No orchestra is necessary this time so fewer moving pieces and caster centers like last play. It's 39 Steps and is a minimal stage, 4 actors playing tons of varied characters, shouldn't be major lighting shifts or back ground changes, but I'm not the Director so who knows what the adaptation will include.

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Panasonic HC-V770

I expanded my possible spending limit and reviewed several camcorders to see what was available. The Panasonic HC-V770 has pretty good reviews in general and is right at $600. Best Buy has a bundle with case, lenses, mic, and more for $40 more. That mic might not be great, but it should be better than the omni mic installed on my current camera or it.
Several extras on it that I won't use now, but who knows later.
Battery life is important too with plays going 2 hours and beyond. This one has a removable battery so that could help when I can't run power in a theater.
Is there enough gain over the Canon camcorders you recommended to be worth the extra money? At this price is there a better option?

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In order: Yes. Don't think so.

Larger imaging sensor and larger lens diameter will better deal with poor (low) lighting conditions - not as good as something with a 72mm filter diameter and 1/3 inch or larger 3-CMOS or 3CCD imaging sensor system, but better than the (estimated) 37mm diameter and 1/4.85 inch single imaging chip.

4k video capture may be useful - assuming your video editor can deal with that and your computer hardware is robust enough. Lower resolution (1080) will be less demanding on the computer hardware. I am generally an advocate of getting the largest lens diameter and imaging chip you can afford - and usually recommend video capture at highest resolution (downsample is easy - "up sample" not so much).

The battery is replaceable for the HF R600, too, so that is a wash - just trying to be complete. Strongly suggest getting the optional high capacity battery from the manufacturer (not third party).

Note that the mic in that kit is supposed to be camera mountable - but the camcorder has no built-in accessory shoe. The other thing in the kit is a "camera bracket" with a single (cold) accessory shoe. n the image I saw, there is a video light in that accessory shoe. If you want more than one accessory shoe so you can mount the light and mic at the same time - like
http://www.bestbuy.com/site/insignia-cold-shoe-flash-video-light-mounting-arm/8156192.p

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