I admit it. I shoot in raw.
I want the ability to really push those pixels to my will, and shooting in JPEG doesn't always allow me to do that. I actually really like the look of Nikon's JPEGs, and when I'm shooting family snapshots, I'll usually just do so as JPEGs. When I shoot for a client, I shoot in raw. Those big ol' .NEF files allow me to fully tweak the images as I want.
For the past few years, I've used Adobe Lightroom for my image processing. While I don't think it produces the absolute best image quality, I can still get through a batch of images quickest using Lightroom. In the past few weeks, however, there's been some new contenders to the raw conversion software battle. They're free to try, so that's just what I did.
I grabbed a landscape photo and a portrait photo and converted them using the different applications. These are all straight from each converter with no tweaks. I've also included the final image I delivered to the clients.