The Camera Raw Advantage
The reason all this stuff about data loss and image degradation is relevant is that one of the main tasks Camera Raw performs is to tone-map images from native, linear-gamma camera RGB to a gamma-corrected working space. When you use the controls in Camera Raw, you aren’t just editing the pixels you captured; you’re also tailoring the conversion. As you saw back in Figures 2-5 and 2-6, it’s possible to arrive at the same image appearance with a robust file that contains plenty of data and hence offers plenty of editing headroom, or a very fragile file containing relatively little data that will fall apart under any further editing.
Since the raw conversion is at the beginning of the image-processing pipeline, and the converted images may be subjected to many different color space conversions and many different edits to optimize them for different output processes, you’ll save yourself a world of grief if you use Camera Raw’s controls to deliver as robust a file as you can muster. The defaults in Camera Raw 6 are a useful starting point, but even though the defaults often work well, it’s rare that they can’t be substantially improved. It’s therefore eminently worthwhile learning to use the Camera Raw controls effectively. If you do, you’ll get better images with much less work in Photoshop.