I was in the same boat as you and did a lot of research on some review sites like camcorderinfo.com etc. I went with a camcorder that was in mint condition but, 2 years old the Panasonic PV-GS150 which is a 3CCD camera.
There's a lot of passionate debate over the CCD size and frankly I'm not too concerned and coming up with some awesome footage. I don't use the optical zoom as frequently because of stabilization issues when taking action shots in a kayak, hiking or whatever and as you may know most sub-$1000 cameras suffer from low-level lighting but, you just go with some of the limitations these cameras have.
To me the GS150 is small enough yet, you know you're holding a quality cam and the footage will be clean with nice resolution.
This camera was $375 from Ebay mint.
I also bought a Panasonic PV-GS35 which cost me $200 and is great for what it is. Hope this helps!
I'm looking at all of these reviews and keep reading about the different CCD sizes and I'm wondering if I would be better off going with an older camera with a larger CCD.
I'm buying the camera so that I can film my new baby coming in a month, plus be able to film me and my friends mountain biking. So it needs to handle shaking around in my backpack. Wrapped nugley of course.
Right now I'm thinking about the Canon ZR800 or the Sony DCR-HC38. I want MiniDV, not DVD or HDD. I would like to keep the cost in the $300-$400 range. If I went with a used camera I could probably get a slightly better but older camera.
Is there anything that the new MiniDV's cameras offer that's any better? Are the new smaller CCD's better than the older larger ones? Maybe it's just that the new cameras are much smaller in size.
This is my first camcorder by the way.
Thanks for any input you can offer!