My best advice is to look for the name "iFrame" or the Works with Mac logo. iFrame is the format Apple has been trying to get manufacturers to adopt for a while. It imports directly into iMovie because it doesn't need to be converted or transcoded. It is literally the same size and format as the native iMovie editing format. Pansonic and Sanyo both have iFrame cameras in their line ups. So look for that in the specs on the camera and you'll be guaranteed that it will just work. I bought a Panasonic HM-TA1 last winter when the Apple store was trying to sell out of them. Price dropped about $30 and I paid ~$135 just before Christmas. It has iFrame as one of the options in what format it saves in. Time spent importing just a few minutes at most for 1 hours worth of video. And you're ready to edit as soon as it's copied into the iMovie Event Library. fast,fast,fast
Above, Apple talks about what camcorders work with what. I have to disagree a little with the previous response. I really don't think iFrame camcorders are the best way to go. While Apple has made their software work with some of them, one limits oneself by getting a camcorder that only records in that way.
You didn't mention your price constraints. I am a big believer in Canon camcorders, and own an older HFS 100 that does wonderful video, and acceptable photos. And I own a Sony DSLR, the SLT-33, that does the opposite, wonderful photos and pretty **** good video.
Just saying...look around, and when you have brought your choices down to two or three, post here to get reactions.
Personally, I like AVCHD camcorders that record to an SDHC card.
Avoid camcorders that record to DVDs like the plague.
Camcorders that record to a hard drive are OK, but I prefer one with no spinning parts.
An AVCHD camcorder records in a highly compressed format in a group of pictures compression scheme. This works by taking 1 "full frame", with all the pixels. Then for the next 24 or so frames, the compression algorithm lools for what his changed from one frame to the next, what has stayed the same, the direction of motion, etc, and creates partial frames that can be decoded to create the movie, but are useless without the full frame.
Think of a duck flying across the sky. The camera compressed this by taking a full resolution (1920 x 1080) photo of the duck. Then it notices that the background is moving left to right, the ducks wings are moving up and down, etc. and uses this for the next 24 frames to capture the images in a much smaller amount of space.
This is great for capturing on a camera, but when you are editing, it is best to have all "full frames", because obviously, if you edit out the full frame, the rest are worthless. And it puts a huge load on your computer, because for every edit, it not only has to do the edit, it has to do all these calculations to see what is really in the frame. If you think of something as simple as a fast motion effect where you select every 4th frame to give the appearance of fast motion, this is easy to do if you have all full frames, but very difficult if you have partial frames.
So in iMovie, AVCHD is converted to Apple Intermediate Codec. It takes more room than AVCHD - up to 10 times more room (but not 24 times more room because the compressed frames still takes up some room),
In Final Cut Pro, the AVCHD is converted to ProRes422, which is a high end intermediate codec for pros.
So don't be scared of AVCHD, but if you get into video as a hobby, be prepared to buy external disk drives.
It depends on your computer. It will either be slightly less than real time, or if you have an older Intel Mac, it may take up to 1.5 times real time. As I mentioned, it is converted to Apple Intermediate Codec as part of this process.
What I usually do...
There is an option on the import screen to create an archive. This produces a copy of the original AVCHD on your hard drive. This is very fast. I then import into iMovie from the Archive copy. Once the import is finished, I know I have a backup and I go ahead and reformat my card.