email reply...

+++++++++++++++++++++

Since miniDV tape provides best available video (DV and HDV compress the least, hence best available video when compared to other storage media).

Camcorder built-in mics are less than 2 inches away from the tape drive mechanism, so just their proximity would pick up any nearby noise (especially during quiet passages). You actually need two attributes in a decent camcorder for your needs:

1) A mic in jack. This lets you plug in an external mic. This moves the mic element(s) away from the tape mechanism and out of the camcorder body.

2) Manual audio control. This over-rides the camcorder's built-in automatic mic-gain control. The auto-gain is OK if the audio is constant at a "normal" level, but it too soft, the gain increases as it is listening for audio - and decreases when it hears something. There is a characteristic "whooshing" noise that gets recorded. When the audio is too loud, it will clip and sound very muddy. With manual audio control, you set the level so that the loudest is just before the peak. The soft audio will be soft and loud audio will be loud and if you set it right, there is no clipping or muddiness.

The Canon ZR800 and ZR900 have mic-in jacks - but no manual audio control. If the audio is in the normal range, this is fine. I know acoustic/classical guitar can be very soft and quite loud. Part of what makes that music fun is the timbre and dynamic range. It may not be amplified, but I bet it can make the auto-gain clip. These are a little less than $300.

The cheapest cams that I know of with mic-in AND manual audio are the Canon HV20, HV30, Sony HDR-HC7 and HC9. They are closer to $700-$800.

MiniDV tape camcorders require a working firewire port on the computer. If the firewire (IEEE1394a, i.Link, all the same thing) is working, no other camera-specific drivers are needed. You use the camcorder's DV port (not USB) along with a firewire cable and the computer's firewire port and it just works. MovieMaker is bundled with Windows - though I don't know if it does HDV - I know it does DV... Sorry I don't know more - I do all my editing on Macintoshes. If you need to install a firewire port, they are typically pretty cheap: http://shop4.outpost.com/search?search_type=regular&sqxts=1&query_string=firewire+card&cat=&submit.x=0&submit.y=0

3) The other way to get manual audio control is to get an external audio recording device like the little field recorders from Marantz, Zoom, or M-Audio. The have built-in mics that are quite good, they are not INSIDE the camcorder and they have manual audio control. It is an extra step, but all you do is replace the camcorder audio with the audio from the field recorder.

I don't suggest recording the audio directly into your PC - some of them can get pretty noisy (fan) and that could get picked up by the mic... unless you use some sort of guitar transducer to USB audio converter device... I think M-Audio makes those, too (the converter - not the transducer... for the transducer, I'd have to look through the Guitar Center catalog...).

So you *could* get a Canon ZR-something and a field recorder and still spend less than getting the Canon HV20, HV30, Sony HDR-HC7 and HC9 plus a decent stereo mic (something from Audio Technica or RODE)... but $500 is not very much in the video world - especially if you need the audio to be good.