Airport X-Rays and precious film! : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

After a four year learning curve, I made the big plunge into LF (Wisner 4X5 Expedition - likely the best wood field camera out there) and booked my 10 day vacation to San Fran/Yosemite/Wine Country.

I know there's a lot of information and opinions regarding airport x-rays and film but any and all responses would be greatly appretiated. Let's suppose I'm a pro shooting a National Geographic spread on Italy. How do those guys/ladies by-pass the x-ray of their film at the international airports, especially during these times of terrorist bombing threats? Do they? I'd feel much more comfortable if there's a stream of responses that assure me that my Velvia will suffer no streaking effects. Thanks to all who respond.

-- Kevin V. Blasi (, May 25, 1999


First, you NEVER put your unprocessed film in CHECKED luggage, since the new InVision CTX 5000 x-ray machines used to scan checked luggage WILL cause streaking.

Second, you ask for hand inspection of your film. In theory, this should not be a problem in the USA where according to FAA regulations, this is a right. In practice, I've found that cut sheet film can be problematic. Options are to come plenty of time in advance and discuss, bring a changing bag, or carry film boxes on you (without the foil wrappers which sometimes set the metal detector). There are some European airports where they insist on x-raying everything anyway.

Third, with a moderate amount of x-ray from MODERN machines (for CARRY-ON scanning), you shouldn't see a significant degradation. Howard Bond cites a 0.05 increase in the film-base+fog density of TMAX 400 after 10 x-rays, and no change after 4-6 x-rays.

-- Quang-Tuan Luong (, May 25, 1999.

NEVER put unprocessed film in checked luggage. The new machines are murder on unprocessed film. The xray machines at security checkpoints inside the airport should be OK for the one or two that refuse to hand inspect. Have the film packaged for travel so that it is easy for the security people to open the bag, check that it is just film and camera stuff, and put back in the bag without much fuss. The last thing we want are pissed off security guards making life difficult for the rest of us. Also, be prepared to have to check the camera equipment. Some airlines are getting to be real difficult about carryons and may only allow one SMALL bag on the plane. This will HAVE to be the film. So have a bag for the film, and one that can be locked and checked if need be. I usually have mine organized so that I can pull out a small bag from a side pocket for film and my laptop. Even a cheap nylon backpack or tote will do. Good luck.

-- Kim Coast (, May 26, 1999.


First of all, pros shooting for Nat'l Geo shoot 35mm, and those canisters are easier to hand-inspect at the carry-on baggage station. You are shoting large format. Put yourself in the position of a person who has: -Never seen a large format film box or holder -gets paid US $8.00/hr to return keys and sunglasses to passengers in a little basket -Is being told "You can't look inside this box, nor can you put it through the Xray machine."

By now my point should be fairly have to plan before doing this. Good forethought on your part.

You have some options with Large-format film, some of which have been explained in this forum before. (did you search?) Unfortunately, it has been my experience with many airports (even when travelling domestic) that the low-paid personnel at the carry-on check station simply do not give a damn and will refuse to present any options to you.

First option: Ship your film to a trusted agent at your destination ahead of time, and back to another trusted agent who will return it to you when you come home. Minuses to this approach: Shipping company loses film, trusted agent isn't, FedEx leavs film on doorstep in rain, or Xrays the package themselves.

Second option: Shoot readyload/quickload. This allows you to actually -open- the film box for inspection at the carry-on luggage inspection station. -Minuses to this approach: Additional investment and learning curve in new film loading system, usual readyload/quickload foibles.

Third option: Shoot and process at your destination. You'll be in the ay area, and among others, Calypso imaging in San Jose offers Kodak QLab E6 processing with a standard 4-hour turnaround 60 minutes from SFO airport. ( They have never failed me. As far as I know, the only problem you'll have transporting _processed_ film in checked luggage is losing it. -Minuses to this approach: Time and technicality.

These three are the most obvious options for me, and others may have additional thoughts. Entrusting your film to the airport/airline security crush or trying to bring an unopenable box of exposed film back home are both bad ideas.

Congrats on the Wisner. Beautiful camera. Sexy red bellows!

(If I may offer a bit of advice as well, the wine country light is actually rather blah this time of year, unless you get up _very_ early in the morning. You may also want to experience the pacific coast at Bodega Bay, about an hour's

-- Doug Broussard (, May 26, 1999.

I believe I posted an "answer" to this at the beginning of the month under the heading "Airport Security and large Format" or something. It details my experiences going through O'hare with an 8 X 10 kit and loaded holders. However, all the answers you really need have been posted already.

-- Sean yates (, May 26, 1999.

I'm going off topic here. Congratulations! Wisner Expedition - the most beautiful camera ever made - anyone want to argue that?

Best wooden camera, and 2nd most beautiful camera ever made - Wisner Pocket Expedition - don't bother to argue this, because I won't defend this opinion. Anyone seen those ugly black and silver versions, yet? Is Ron going nuts?

Kevin, just stick with Quickloads and you'd be fine, good luck.

-- Carlos Co (, May 26, 1999.

I'd have to agree with the responses so far. Having your stuff checked by hand is safest but make sure you allow yourself extra time. I've had to sit and watch security poke through my stuff (they have no idea what there looking for) a number of times. I used to put my film in a Film Shield before I was told by someone that for domestic flights anything under 400 ASA is o.k. to put through security x-ray (walk through). For the past 5 years I have been letting my film (mostly Velvia & Provia) go through their little machines and have had no streaking. I've done this at O'hara and about 10 other airports across the country without incident.

-- Erik Biss (, May 27, 1999.

Maybe bring along a couple of sheets of exposed film to show security. Also, sacrifice a sheet of unexposed film to use as a sample. Just explain to them that sheet film is no different than canister film

-- Colin Seaman (, May 31, 1999.

On a recent trip to europe, the airport personel insisted on putting my film through the x-ray, the exact words were leave it here or put it through. This was only 35mm too! I shoot large format at home and I was wondering this myself, until I met a professional photojournalist on the plane. He shoots 4x5 whenever he can and all he did with his box of 100 exposed sheets was put it into a lead bag, he had no trouble. But then again I've heard of people with lead bags coming back from africa, their bag got pulled out of their carry-ons opened and put back through the x-ray. Sufficed to say their protests fell on deaf ears.

-- Jason (, June 29, 2000.

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