Introduction and a few questions about RAW...?

Started 11 months ago | Questions thread
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Aaron801
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Introduction and a few questions about RAW...?
11 months ago

Hello, my name is Aaron and I'm just getting a bit more serious about this digital photography thing, having just won an auction for a Panasonic GH2 on ebay (crossing my fingers on that one!). The camera seemed to be the best combination of fit for what I wanted and for the value - as the Olympus and Fuji cameras that I was looking at were selling for a bit more than my budget would allow. 
I'll certainly be glad to have a more modern, more capable digital camera as I've been using a (at this point) very old (at least in digital years) Canon PowerShot A620 (a point and shoot) for a number of years. I have taken some photos with it that I've been quite happy with and it can be a nice challenge to work within the limitations of a piece of gear like that, but I'm sure looking forward to a tool that'll be more versatile, faster and easier to get to the manual controls. I got serious about photography in the age of film and have felt more than a little bit frustrated that I don't have a camera to compare with the handling of my old FE or Minolta X570 cameras (love both of those!). Hope fully the GH2 will be such a beast...
Having read about the GH2, it seems that this camera is really optimized for video which I'll end up playing around with (I have shot a bit of video in the past, but it's really the post-production part of that which excites me most), but I understand that JPEGs are a bit of a weak point...so having never dealt with RAW and having pretty much broken the bank buying this camera, what then is the recommended free software for RAW conversion? Or perhaps is there a great plug in to use with Photoshop (I already do a lot with that program)? Perhaps at some point, I'll track down a cheap used copy of Lightroom, but maybe I don't even need that..? I'll be bringing images into Photoshop for sure to mess with 'em. Oh yes, I have CS4 so whatever plug in I use it has to work for that old version of the software. 
Also, I'm wondering if there's particular settings for different cameras that can be downloaded and used with different RAW conversion software. Like the photos of Panasonic cameras are considered to be a bit on the magenta side... so is there a settings/curves thing that's designed specifically for these cameras? I do understand that much of the art is in adjusting any given image in a "custom" way, but perhaps there's a nice way to make a baseline adjustment that's tailored to the idiosyncrasies of a particular camera...
Thanks, in advance and I'm really looking forward to more discussions about technique, gear and most importantly the art of photography. I've been checking out this forum already for a little while before registering and I can see that it is a truly great resource. If anything it seems a bit too big! The number of different sub-forums is frankly a bit overwhelming. How does one decide where to go? Like my post here could have been in several other forums...

 Aaron801's gear list:Aaron801's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 Panasonic Leica Summilux DG 25mm F1.4 Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 II ASPH Mega OIS
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
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