One recommendation I got from a friend was to consider a Camcorder with a 30 Gig HD as there are several models that have 32-34x optical (not digital) zoom. I'm wondering why camcorders can support that while most long range digital cameras I've seen go to 15-18x, and the ones above 12x all seem to have issues with image quality.. . . Any thoughts?
I think it's psychological. No one expects to look at a large moving image with the same eye for individual-frame image quality that they would use when looking at a still picture. They're focusing on the action, the story, etc., not the quality of indivdiual frames. In fact, even when watching a modern movie, you can often see imperfections in the image when movement goes too fast, or something gets too near the edge of the lens. But no one has the time to focus on those imperfections, so they're not much noticed.
The original 35mm b/w movie films had a frame size 1/2 that of the film later used in 35mm still cameras, yet when the frames are moving, they can be blown up to fill an entire movie screen, something few people would have attempted when printing a still image from a negative of that size. In sum, movie cameras (including video cam corders) can get away with the low quality produced by 30x+ optical lenses, while still cameras can't. The imperfections would be too obvious in still pictures.