Jumpy video on monitor

Hello to all fcp experts (and others).
Here's the intermittent problem: video on the NTSC monitor sometimes jumps around. Kinda like when a pro setup has bad synch reference. No vertical interval or anything, just bounces around as if it someone is playing with the positioning in a DVE. After a few seconds, frames get dropped and the whole image goes away.
Often, closing & restarting fcp fixes the problem, but sometimes not.
Setup: FCP 5.1.2 on MacBook Pro, 2 gig ram. Using a Cannon consumer camera as firewire device driving a Sony professional grade 13" monitor (composite input). Various combinations of external drives on FW 400 bus. Camera is always at the end of the chain. Doing multicam editing, them collapsing clips & doing color correction & titles. Problem occurs randomly whether doing multicam or single stream editing. 2 channels of audio. Color correction & titles rendered.
Troubleshooting so far:
-FW cables OK
-composite video cable OK
-other applications closed
-using different drives for playback (7200rpm in case, bus-powered 5400, even the internal drive as a test - all OK, no specific combination is bad)
-changing RT settings in timeline (Safe vs. Unlimited, Dynamis vs. Full playback, etc.)
-disconnecting all extra USB peripherals
-cycling power on camera.
-not related to sleep on computer or drives: it sometimes happens on startup, sometimes part way through an edit session
No solution so far. The flakiness always clears up, so I can still work. It's just odd.
Any thoughts? Thanks in advance.
Jeff M.
  Mac OS X (10.4.8)  

My first thought was the camera or the video signal to the monitor. The video is all in spec, as far as I can tell.
What's odd is that something that plays fine for a week suddenly gets stupid for a few minutes, then plays fine later on. I also found the other day that if I keep working, the playback on the computer monitor goes bad, too. Sounds like dropped frames. (Believe me, I remember the bad old days trying to use fcp 1.25 on a G3 with external drives with the slow firewire-ata bridge set. Still managed to cut a feature movie on that setup!)
But then 95 percent of the time it all works flawlessly. Spooky.

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