How critical is processing to a finsihed picture? It absolutely crucial!!! Neither picture is very good for a multitude of reasons, but better processing makes a huge difference. Here is a graphic example:
This is M16, the Eagle Nebula with the Pillars of Creation from Hubble Space Telescope fame:
The data was captured from a dark sky location in Central Oregon in September 2009. It is 27 minutes (40 sec exposures).
6" f/5 imaging Newtonian, CG5 GT mount (unguided), Orion StarShoot II color CCD
#1: aligned and stacked in Maxim lite, and processed in Photo Shop Elements.
#2 aligned and stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in Photo Shop CS.