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Photography Question 
Jana Belcher

protecting film when going through airport scanner

Plan on travelling to England next year, what is the best way to travel with unexposed and exposed film? What precautions do you take going through security? Should you buy film there or take your film with you???

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12/23/2005 11:31:46 AM

David A. Bliss   Unless you are using a very high ISO (over 1600), the xrays for carry on luggage will not damage film. the xrays for checked luggage are much stronger, and can damage film. If you do not want to send you film through the carry on xray machine, be prepared for a lengthy procedure. They will open each canister of film, and test it for bomb residue.

By the way, if you decide to ship your film back to yourself, check with the carrier. Some of them are starting to use xrays to check packages.

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12/23/2005 11:36:20 AM

Will Turner   Yes, carry-on all film you plan to take, although you can buy just about anything you want in England, an internet search will reveal shops that stock your preferences. I think a better limit for carry-on screens is more like IS0 400-600 and under, I've had 800-speed film ruined by overseas passenger-screen x-rays. Buy your hi-speed film in England and get all your exposed film at least developed while there, rendering your film safe for further screens and no worries about x-raying your mailed film packages.

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12/24/2005 11:07:38 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Greetings Jana: Your question could probably generate a gazillion replies based partly on anecdotes, rumors, and speculation being represented as fact.

First off, here's the Kodak link to the subject of x-rays and baggage scanning. You'll find links to literature and other info sources there on the subject.

And, of course, our buddies at the Transport. Security Admin. have their views on the subject that don't really contradict Kodak, but leave a bit to be desired in terms of realities. That link is

What many don't understand is that the effects of x-rays on any film product, regardless of its ISO, is cumulative. Multiple passes through screening equipment can conceivably (and do) cause more base side emulsion fog than say a single pass. How well a particular machine at a particular airport is calibrated also affects the dose as does the type of machine. The CTX 5000 scanners which are usually used to screen checked baggage, can deliver much higher doses than those machines used to screen carry-on bags. Even to the extent that they will penetrate the lead-lined film shields, like those Sima sells.

The CTX scanners are also appearing more frequently lately at foreign airports to screen carry-on bags as well. BTW, of course x-rays don't effect digital cameras or their storage devices.

So, how do you avoid the damage to film, regardless of speed? In the U.S. the TSA requires that their security people, when they're requested to do so, hand-inspect film carried aboard any flight originating in the U.S. That includes carry-on bags AND when they're notified and requested, checked baggage. If you don't have a ton of film, just arrive at the screening check early, make your request when you get up to the scanner and be patient and try to stay pleasant. It doesn't take forever, they'll get to you, usually sooner rather than later. Have your film out of the manufactuers carton, but don't open all the cans (if it's 35mm). Let them randomly open a few and then you mark the ones that were opened. (Why? because opening the cans releases the inert gas the film is packaged in to prevent moisture from condensing on it.) They're not required to open all the cans. It's a very arbitrary process. Buying film packed in see-through cans is always helpful. If you shoot with sheet film or 120, leave it in the sealed foil packets.

If you have lots of film that won't fit in the passenger cabin, you can check it at the airline ticket counter , (preferably in lead-lined film shields)and ask for a hand inspection of the film by a TSA person. At that point, they'll help get that done for you. The bag will be inspected, sealed with a TSA sticker noted the inspection and marked "FILM DO NOT X-RAY". But I'm talking a LOT of film, like more than a couple of bricks worth, and shipping it in a separate case.

Once you get to where you're going, when I shoot a job overseas, I find Kodak Professional "Q-Lab" to process all our film. That way we're not shlepping unprocessed film back and risking additional x-ray exposure. Now, in England (among other countries these days) I can tell you from experience that they will NOT hand-inspect your film either on the way back or on a change of planes passing through. In fact, they'll likely tell you that if your film doesn't get on the conveyor, you don't get on the airplane. You'll find a list of Q-labs around the world and in the U.S. at the Kodak web site.

If you elect to buy your film overseas, buy it in larger batches and test one roll from each batch to make sure it's good and without any fogging. You don't even need to shoot it, just have a blank roll processed and check it for fogging or have the lab do it for you.

Check out the web sites I listed. Be overly cautious and then bon voyage :>))).


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12/25/2005 4:07:36 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Hey Jana: Here's another link for the Sima Film Shields I mentioned. You might find that useful too.

BTW, it took the FAA roughly 8 years to acknowledge that carry-on bag screening equipment would cause emulsion fog to speeds less than 400, as they previously denied. This admission was brought about by a group of professional photography organizations including ASMP and manufacturers like Kodak leaning on them to admit what we'd proven about fogging of lower speed film less than ISO 400, including 50 and 100 speed, subjected to multiple passes through carry-on bag x-ray devices. Multiple passes like three or more usually, were sufficient to cause some fogging as measured by a densitometer.

Take it light.

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12/26/2005 6:12:28 PM

David A. Bliss   Mark, thank you for the great info. I will do some more research on this, but I don't travel with film much anymore since I switched to digital ;-)

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12/26/2005 6:41:13 PM

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