META35 Review: Metadata For Your Negatives / by Jake Horn

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Meta35 is a device that enables a film-to-digital workflow where you can transfer camera shooting data to a computer and then embed the metadata to your scanned image files. This is a huge game changer for photographers that use a hybrid workflow. When I discovered the Meta35 system, I knew immediately that it would boost productivity, seeing that I own two compatible cameras (the Nikon F5 and F6). For a list of all compatible cameras, visit Meta35's site.

How it works is simple, the compatible cameras are modern film SLR's that already capture shooting data to internal memory. Nikon, as an example, had a system where you would connect a compact flash card reader to the camera to retrieve this shooting data. The downside of this was, due to it's age, a clumsy spreadsheet interface (Photo Secretary). The Meta35 connects your camera directly to the computer and uses a well designed graphic user interface to import scans and data to sort and embed the data.

  GUI used to import shooting data and scans

GUI used to import shooting data and scans

Once the metadata is embedded, you can then import the files into Lightroom. As you can see below, the scan now has embedded shooting data including focal length, ISO, exposure info, etc. This is a big deal to my photographic process because I no longer have to take notes on basic shooting information. While shooting during travel, it gets very clumsy to write down frame by frame details. This type of record keeping makes sense for large and medium format landscapes, but it becomes too much when you're dealing with 36 frames. Now when I review my shots from a trip and notice purple fringing, or softness due to diffraction,  I know what lens and what f-stop the picture was taken at. This is key to make yourself a better photographer (i.e. become a master of your gear).

While the Meta35 software has the ability to add different types of metadata to the photos, I instead elect to use Lightroom to do the heavy lifting. My default import option automatically adds copyright info onto the files. I then sort the photos and add the appropriate keywords. I find that Lightroom handles this much better than the Meta35 system. There is also an option to change the camera's custom setting inside the software. This is a huge plus for Nikon F5 users since it makes changing the presets a breeze. 

  Camera preset screen

Camera preset screen

At $150, Meta35 is not cheap, but it is the only solution that fills a very specific void in a modern film shooters toolbox. Even though you can still get a Nikon MV-1 reader used, you will spend more money for a used, inferior product. Meta's site has video tutorials to guide you through the process so using this system is extremely user friendly. It only took me 20 minutes to get through my first roll of film. If you shoot one of the compatible cameras and scan your photos, I think the Meta35 is a must.

  The Meta35 Adapter plugged into a Nikon F5

The Meta35 Adapter plugged into a Nikon F5