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Photoshop ships with a plug-in called Camera Raw that allows you to process images captured with a midrange or professional level digital camera and saved in your camera's so-called raw format. This raw file represents the uncompressed data captured by the camera's image sensor. Such a file is typically several times larger than an equivalent JPEG, but it also contains far more information, including a wider range of luminance data. Think of it this way. If Photoshop lets you edit an image and turn that image into anything you like, Camera Raw lets you develop it.
It really is a digital darkroom. You start by adjusting the white balance, which is the basic color cast of the image, then you expose the image, correct the contrast, enhance the colors, and straighten and crop is needed. You can even adjust certain areas independently of others, correct for lens distortion, and add grain and vignetting effects. The amazing thing is that no matter what, without the need for layers, every modification is parametric. In other words, you can't harm an image in Camera Raw. Plus you can correct multiple images at a time, something Photoshop can't do, and you can copy modifications from one image to another.
Camera Raw works inside the Bridge. It works inside Photoshop, and it's fully compatible with Adobe's other photo development program, Lightroom. If you're a photographer, Camera Raw is your development tool. If you're an artist or designer, Camera Raw lets you process and evaluate lots of images in rapid succession. If Camera Raw costs an extra $300, I would tell you to buy it, but it ships free with Photoshop and here's how it works.
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