Airport X-ray & Photo Film

Now that is almost certain that one’s luggage will be x-rayed, what can be done to protect photo film from dammage? ----------------
Der Aldt

Carry the film in your pocket or in a hip pack. I’m serious, this is what I do when I travel by air. You’ll need to remove it from your pocket when you go through the metal detector because the film will set it off. If you decide on the small camera bag or hip pack, pass the bag to one of the guards to be inspected by hand.

Does the X-Ray even hurt film? I went through an X-Ray going to Ellis Island and they would not inspect it by hand. So I put my film through the X-Ray. They all came out fine, both the film that was in the camera, exposed film and new film.

DO NOT put your film in checked baggage; these bags are subjected to higher doses of X-Rays than at the gate.

DO ask for hand inspection; they may give you a hard time, but according to The FAA screeners are required to comply. (Open part 1544.211, section ‘e’, part ‘3’: (3) The signs required under this paragraph (e) must notify individuals that such items are being inspected by an X-ray and advise them to remove all X-ray, scientific, and high-speed film from accessible property and checked baggage before inspection. This sign must also advise individuals that they may request that an inspection be made of their photographic equipment and film packages without exposure to an X-ray system. If the X-ray system exposes any accessible property or checked baggage to more than one milliroentgen during the inspection, the sign must advise individuals to remove film of all kinds from their articles before inspection. )

YMMV, depending on your airport of choice; with screeners all becoming federal employees, perhaps there will be some uniformity of inspection.

Oh, another DO: DO throw away the cans the film comes in, put the cartridges into a clear plastic bag to facilitate hand inspection.

There’s a debate among photographers as to the effects of X-Ray. I have never in my life have any airport carry-on X-Ray machine damage my film. Some photo magazine did a study on this (I unfortunately can’t remember which,) but they found that even with dozens of passes of high-speed film, no noticable fogging happens.

However, YMMV, depending on where in the world you are. I’ve travelled through Western & Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the US, and Australia with film up to 3200 ISO sensitivity, with up to 10 times of carry-on x-ray exposure and have not noticed any effects.

You normally can request hand inspections, but post-9/11, not everyone is willing to accomodate you. Keep all your film in a clear plastic bag and remove each roll from the plastic cylinder its comes packaged in.

Do not, on the other hand, send film through checked luggage. The x-rays machines they use there are much stronger. I’ve once done this on a trip to Moscow by accident, with no ill effect, but it was low-speed film (50 and 100 ISO) and I’m not sure whether all checked baggage gets x-rayed or if it’s done randomly.

From my experience and the reports I’ve read, I’m willing to wager that x-ray machines generally will not harm your film, even counting in the cumulative effect.

Damn…postcards beat me to it…

Puly’s right. Most airports with up-to-date gizmos don’t expose the film to enough radiation to make any noticeable difference.

I’m a photographer who travels a fair bit. I use to toss out the plastic canisters and put the film in a clear ziplock bag for hand inspection. However, post-9/11 I simply let it be X-rayed with my carry on.


Because some snippy security guards exposed two rolls of my travel companion’s film on purpose. Pulled the film right out and totally unrolled it – apparently they objected to the waste of time when the film would have been just fine going through the X-ray machine.

As Postcard’s post noted, “X-ray, scientific and highspeed” films should be removed from baggage.

Most of photographic film is perfectly fine through the modern X-ray gizmos. For the amount of radiation the film is exposed to, it has to be really highspeed (i.e. not film you’d likely be carrying) for there to be noticeable effects. As an experiment, on a really slow day at the airport (and pre-9/11) a security guard let me send through an ISO 400 test roll of slide film over and over and over. I processed the film and there wasn’t any fogging at all.

I worry a little in some airports with really old x-ray equipment, but in that case, I’m just as worried about my internal organs – I saw one machine so old that I have no doubts that the security guy operating it glows in the dark!

I too, have never had my film damaged by airport X-Ray machines. Because I never let my film through. Even post Sept. 11 I’ve been accomdated, without having to show the printout of the FAA regs that I carry.

But this is a subject that can be beaten to death without ever being resolved, 'cause the expeirence will be different given the time of day, the airport you’re at, and the condition of the screeners hemmerroids.