I have a Panasonic SDR-H85.
The quality isn't amazing on it, but it's good when you use manual settings. (Very simple on this model.) It's not too expensive. It's got 78x optical zoom (If you zoom in on the moon, you can see all it's craters and stuff) and it takes pictures which are pretty nice quality. It shoots in standard definition though.
It also gets around 2:30 of battery time.
Here's the CNET review: http://reviews.cnet.com/digital-camcorders/panasonic-sdr-h85-blue/4505-6500_7-33976234.html
I don't think it's manufactured anymore though. You can still find it on amazon/ebay.
Get an HD camcorder. You'll find one easy for < $1000. HV40, HF S320, something along those lines. It doesn't sound like you're in it for the art, mostly just the run and gun, point and shoot, and get something with decent quality out. Go with one of those and you'll be fine.