Since you never know where
you will be or what the conditions will be when you want to capture video, it is generally a good idea to get the camcorder with the widest window for capture. Generally, lighting and audio are the lowest common denominators.
For lighting, the camcorder needs to have the largest lens filter diameter and largest imaging chips you can afford. Any camcorder can do well in daylight. Large lenses can let limited light in and large imaging chips can process limited light.
For audio, generally, normal audio levels are best recorded when the audio source is close (within 10 feet) of the mic. Beyond this and an external mic is usually suggested. An external mic for very low audio is a good idea, too. Really loud audio may not need the mic to be close to the source, but controlling the audio level may be needed... so a mic jack and manual audio control need to be part of the feature list.
I believe both Canon and Sony have camcorders in the price range you have budgeted that have 58mm lens filter diameter lenses, a mic jack and some sort of manual audio control. It is too bad that the camcorder manufacturers have abandoned miniDV tape in consumer camcorders - the low compression HDV format video continues to be great... AVCHD compression generally used in the current consumer grade camcorders has some challenges - but it is all we get to choose from.
Always record in highest quality. You can reduce quality later - you cannot "upsample" low quality and expenct improvement. Try to use some sort of stabilizer. Tripod, monopod, chair, rock, table - anything - and limit handheld video capture. Consider a video light for when it is really dark. The camcorder you get may help decide on a mic or mics to investigate. Stereo, shotgun, clip-on... there are many different kinds and no single "best" mic for all applications.
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