is getting the mics - therefore the camcorder - as close as possible to the audio source... in your case, a person speaking. In a quite office environment, placing the camcorder - therefore the mics - withing about 5 feet of the audio source will be about as good as it gets. The real heads up here is that the low-end camcorders use an "auto mic gain" mechanism that constantly listens for audio. When it hears the audio, it works to make the low volume and high volume as close to "normal" volume as it can. When the audio is really loud, it will overdrive the the auto-gain resulting in muddy, unusable audio. When the audio is really soft - or between sentences, the gain listens for... nothing. There is a characteristic whooshing sound that can be edited out - or some ambient noise can be produced so the mic gain has something to hear.
There are those who say that there is no such thing as a good mic in a camcorder. Obviously, a stereo built-in mic in the camcorder can't be *that* great when you consider that a mid-range external stereo mic (like an Audio-Technica AT-822) can cost as much as an entry level camcorder... That said there are not very many camcorders that include a mic-in jack.
If you are recording presentations, basically talking heads with chart decks, a wireless lavaliere would be great - but based on your shopping list, I would say you are severely underfunded.
The Canon ZR800, 900 and 930 have a mic-in jack. The bad news is that they do not have manual audio control. They are miniDV tape based camcorders (and as the IT person, you can appreciate the least amount of compression on DV or HDV results in better video quality than other methods that compress a lot more - this includes hard drive and flash memory based camcorders. DVD based camcorder compress the most and should magically find their way into the nearest e-waste recycling facility).
Because the above listed Canons do not have manual audio control, I would not recommend them and because good wireless mics start at about $300, there is nothing to recommend, so a very directional mic would be easier...
My suggested packages:
Low end (not suggested, but it almost fits your budget):
Canon ZR800, 900 or 930
Audio Technica AT55 mic
Sunpak 9002DX tripod
Canon HV20, HV30, Sony HDR-HC7, HC9 (these have a mic-in jack and manual audio control)
NRG Research SA-568 or RODE Video Mic
Sunpak Ultrapro 757
Since you will be in a room and controlled environment, you will have power, so additional rechargable batteries are not needed. Typical office lighting will be sufficient - learn to use the white balance setting.
Because you are in an office setting, there are florescent lights that provide EMI. Any wireless gear should be in the UHF band and Shure makes good stuff, but I *think* it all requires an XLR adapter... this option gets expensive really fast.
Getting video from the miniDV tape into a computer will use a firewire 400 port on the computer connected with a firewire cable to the DV port of the camcorder. Please do not go down the path of "transferring HDD video over USB is easier" - it is not. It may be faster, but not easier. Explain to me where the archived video is. With miniDV tape, the tape that captured the video IS the archive. Stay VERY far awy from DVD based camcorders.
Short question: Any camcorders/cam companies especially good with audio.. either integrated mics or compatibility with wireless systems?
~500 price range.
Without getting into a horrible level of detail.. I've been charged (IT guy..) with finding a setup for recording training/presentations/etc. in one controlled room at work. The organization is well funded and large, but the budget is small ~500. (incl. mic/tripod/bat?, but I can stretch that a little.
They want to be able to separate audio after recording, and would like video as well.
So my first thought is a DVD/HDD camcorder, since it would be easiest for them to work with after recording. DVD looks bad since recording times are around 15-30 minutes per dvd and sessions are going to be 1-1 1/2 hours.
So my charge to you is..
Are there any camcorders under 500 with good microphones? I don't want an incredibly omni-directional mic that's going to pick up every ambient whisper near the Camcorder.
The real focus is getting a good audio recording, with great video quality only being a plus.
If anyone can help, I'm hitting a wall here and you'd make my intern-noob-persona here jump up a notch.