Like you, I have been researching this as well. Panasonic makes a 70x optical zoom and is right at $300. It is a nice little camera but I opted for a Sony instead.
The Sony is a Handyman Cam 60X Optical Zoom, 8GB up to 6 hours recording (3mbps) Zeiss Optics, uses memory sticks and has still photo option. Sony just came out with this unit this year, Model# DCR-SX41.
It is priced right at $299.00 here in Denver. You might find it cheaper online.
I have used this unit 3 times now and twice in very cold conditions and it worked everytime.
Just another option for ya