xrays at airports no more film-safe?

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I was jsut told in a shop that xrays in many airports of the world are no more film-save, as they used to be. As it happens, I was in South Asia rthis spring, and one 8x10 film got spoiled (a shadow line through each neg), and I always wondered why. I had the films in a suitcase, may this be the reason? Is this true about xray machines?


-- Lukas Werth (lukas.werth@rz.hu-berlin.de), November 27, 2000


Hold baggage is generally subjected to much higher x-ray dosages than hand baggage.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), November 27, 2000.

There has been a discussion earlier on this topic, if someone can find it. Yes, some airports have new machines with powerful rays. I think I have read that films will start to show fogging if exposed twice to such machinery, which easily happens when you travel. The worst is that operators will encrease the flow if they want to see through a metal protection (X-Rays bags, film holders, aluminum case)! It is highly recommended to keep all films in the cabin luggage and have them hand checked.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), November 27, 2000.

There has been a ton of discussion of this on www.photo.net/photo; just type in "Xray" in the Search box and you'll find a day's worth of reading.

Basically, though, these two rules can be a guide:

1. NEVER, ever, put film in your checked luggage; if you do, you can assume the film will be ruined by the more powerful CT scans used on checked luggage.

2. The X-ray belt-machines on which you put your carry-on luggage (by the metal detector you walk through) are generally safe for film; I still use lead-lined bags when possible though (and no, they can't "crank up the power on the x-ray machine" to see better into my carry-on bags; at worst, they'll ask me to open everything). Sometimes you can get a hand inspection of film (bypassing the X-ray belt), especially if the film is in clear plastic bags, but this is by no means assured. As an American, I've found hand inspections to be no problem in the US and often difficult in Europe (no matter how friendly I am!)

-- Simon (simonfairfax@aol.com), November 27, 2000.

I just recently returned from a month long trip to India and Nepal and went through airport checks at least 10 times. I took 200 Kodak Readyloads (ASA 100) and carryed them in one bag with nothing else. I never had a problem with getting a visual inspection, because it was obviously something different than they were used to seeing. I would simply tell them that it was professional and very sensitive. I also had a sheet that I would put into the holder to show how it worked.

As an experiement I put a 120 roll of tmax 400 in a suitcase and put another through the carry on luggage at each airport. They each went through at least 10 times. I have not developed the carry on luggage roll yet, but the roll that was in my checked bag is not fogged at all.

I guess this is encouraging. However, it will not change my behavior at airports. I will still carry my film on. It will make me more comfortable about my film if I happen to lose an argument at a gate and my film does go through.

-- Paul Mongillo (pmongillo@thurston.com), November 27, 2000.

Just a quick note to add that I went through a hand luggage check with a box of film, and they insisted on opening up the box (HP5+) to get a swab...if I hadn't had my changing bag in my hand luggage, they would not have let it through...this was at O'Hare in Chicago.

-- Malcolm Fox (foxmalcolm@aol.com), November 30, 2000.

I came across an article in the june 98 issue of french magazine "Chasseur d'Images". Here is some of the content:

"It's new, is implemented in 16 large airports and is called CTX5000 (In Vision Technologies). It's the best system of explosives detection. Wonderful would you say, alas! This new security machinery, a X-Rays tomograph 3D, is more powerful than the classical X-Rays equipment used so far. All films that pass through it are irremediably fogged and lost.....

...Countless amateurs have already found on their negatives an opaque line 1cm across and diverse fogging put in evidence in a test set up by the PIMA (Groupement Mondial des fabricants de matériel photographique). All films in all sensitivities and formats are concerned. By the year 2000, all major airports will be equipped. How to avoid destruction of your precious films? By having them in your hand luggage and checked through the low intensity X-Rays gate or having them hand checked. The good old lead bag is no longer advised for this can bring the operator to increase the flow to see through the material."

Well, we are warned! The problem with the hand luggage is that it is often already packed with the precious and heavy photographic gear. With that some companies have reduced the maximal size of the pack to be taken on board.

Totally different problem but in the same environment, I have been told the depressurisation can have ill effects on the electronics of some cameras. It seems to be well known that many Nikon 8008 have been put out of service during a flight in the store-room.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), December 10, 2000.

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