Loaded Sheet Film and Airport Carry On X-Ray Machines

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For convienence sake, thinking of loading up the first batch of sheet film (B&W, Trannies, IR) at home, before international flight. But I wonder if the x-ray damage will be more because of x-rays bouncing off the metal in the holders (as opposed to leaving film in boxes, and loading afterwards? Andre

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), August 22, 2001


There has been a great deal of concern on this matter as not all airports have the same x-ray equipment. I would suggest having the unloaded film hand checked and loaded into holders at your destination; then unloaded and hand inspected on your return.

-- Merg Ross (mergross@aol.com), August 22, 2001.

On a recent international flight, film was fogged that went through the carry-on scanning machine despite written and verbal assurances that it was safe. It was not important film but it won't happen again.......

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), August 22, 2001.

When I take film out of the country, I will ask that it be handchecked, and sometimes the response will be 'yeah, yeah, yeah, just move along, It'll be ok'. I've even been told 'if you film is not 1000ASA it can't be fogged'.

I will tell them that I insist on my right to have my film handchecked and several times they respond with giving me the 'treatment'. That is, since I've made them actually work for their money, they decide that everything I've got needs to be searched.

I don't care, I willing to go through this because I have had my film fogged in the past by machines. Has C.W. or anybody else ever been given the treatment?

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), August 22, 2001.

This is a very annoying situation. In my experience US airports are better than the European ones, especially the Paris and Amsterdam security officers seem to have no idea that film other than 35mm exists. Perhaps it would be an idea to set up a site with reliable film vendors abroad. One could contact them before embarking on a trip to see if the film needed is available. The same for processing labs. What do you think about it?


-- Marcus Leonard (Marcusleonard@yahoo.com), August 22, 2001.

Dear Respondents: I just read a December 14, 2000 post on same issue as my original question. Lots of concerns about air travel with film and risk for damage via x-ray. One good solution in that post was to mail your sheet film home Via UPS or Fed EX, DHL, etc.

Question now is : Does anyone know if these packages get X-rayed as well, or is it that since they go via a courier company's cargo jet, there is no x-raying involved? Andre

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), August 22, 2001.

Does anyone still make the lead lined film bag that I bought 25+ years ago for this very purpose? I'm not sure if there are current suppliers, but it's a plastic coated, lead lined device about the size of a lunch bag. You used to also be able to buy it in sheets and "gift wrap" your film prior to travelling. Mine has carried film to such exotic locations as Fort St. John, BC and Prince Edward Island without fogging by airport x-ray machines.

-- Bruce Pollock (pollock@telus.net), August 22, 2001.

There's no physical reason why x-rays would "bounce" off metal and somehow cause more x-ray exposure to film in film holders.

It's just not how x-rays work.

There's already an article on this site that states in no uncertain terms that 400 speed 4x5 film has been handchecked several times through carry-on x-rays with no adverse effect on exposure.

-- edward kang (ekang@cse.nd.edu), August 22, 2001.

Maybe I am mistaken, but "handchecked through carry-on x-rays" is not what was said. "Hand checked" means that it did NOT go through the xray machine, but was visually checked by security.

-- Michael Feldman (mfeldman@qwest.net), August 23, 2001.

The effect of airport x-rays on film is an age-old question. Interestingly, however, I've never seen any testing or controlled experiments to fully examine the effect of x-rays on specific types of film stored under varying conditions. It seems like a fairly simple test provided that you could access the equipment.

Has Kodak or any major film manufacturer conducted and published any tests? Are there any serious LF shooters who work in airports or who have access to airport security equipment? Anybody willing to take loaded filmholders down to the airport, walk in and out of security, process the film, and report results?

I realize this seems a bit silly, but the reseach question/hypothesis seems basic and answerable with a straightfoward test.


-- Dave Willison (dwillisart@aol.com), August 23, 2001.

Avoid the whole mess and get a lead bag for your sheet film to and from your destination. My brother who lives in Tokyo brough me back 2 boxes of Fuji 5x7 Velvia (20 sheets each) in a Hakuba X-Ray safety case DX IN HIS CARRY ON BAGGAGE. Dimensions are 80mm W x 165mm L x 180mm H. It is rated safe to ISO 1600. However, on the back of the bag there is a warning "Be sure to put your films into your carry on baggage when you board a plane." "Never put films them into air cargoes for even highly resistant X-Ray protective pouches cannot avoid film exposure from the more powerful CT scanning."

Hope this helps.

-- Michael Kadillak (m.kadillak@home.com), August 23, 2001.

In many European airports there is nothing you can say or do to get a hand inspection. However, in US, we are entitled to it. I go early in case a security person does not want to cooperate and I have to insist, or ask for a supervisor. In other parts of the world, I have found that I can carry lots of 4x5 sheet film in pockets of a jacket or vest and just walk thru the metal detector with them. Never sets it off.

-- John Sarsgard (sarsgard@yahoo.com), August 23, 2001.

As for FedEx and others x-raying, I asked FedEx when flying back from Puerto Rico and shipping my exposed 4x5 separately, in two split packages set for delivery on two different days, whether they x-ray. My answer was that they could not confirm or deny that they use x-ray as a security measure. But both shipments arrived when the were supposed to unharmed and unfogged. Whether this is the case always is completely up in the air. Buying where you are going is the best, if available. Having it snail mailed by a supplier to meet you (with enough lead time to make sure it is waiting for you) is second best but nerve-racking because you know how often they get it wrong. Shipping it yourself to your hotel or whatever is ok, but you don't know about x-rays. Visual inspection of carry-on unopened boxes works but is a royal pain when you encounter employees who don't know anything. Loaded film holders is a no-no. Not only can they get x-rayed or opened without your knowledge, but they tend to draw in dust in rarified air, or more likely when returning to ground from rarified air. Coming home is the worst because it is more precious and is also more at risk for many reasons. For this reason I sometimes process where I am and take home safe, stable negatives, but this is not always possible.

-- Rob Tucher (rtphotodoc@hotmail.com), August 23, 2001.

To Mr. Feldman and others, I urge you to read the articles on this site:

I carry all film (usually four boxes or so of 8 X 10) in a separate, smaller carry-on. There are probably not many traveling photogs who have not heard about the new CAT scan technology being used in some airports to screen checked in baggage, which will screw up your film. So I always carry it on, or, if needs be, do a gate-check (which has already been x-rayed as carry-on, so should get no further scanning). As for carry-on x-ray: I’ve traveled with sheet film in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, and have just never had a problem. The fastest stuff you’re going to get is ASA 400, and everyone I have talked to says it’s just too slow to be harmed by the regular carry-on x-ray machines. There’s enough minor hassles involved in traveling with LF, so do yourself a favor and skip the headaches of asking for unnecessary handchecks, when you know that they’ve never seen film in flat boxes before and are going to insist on opening them up: "Not film! Film not flat! Film in rolls! Dog must smell! Talk to supervisor now!" I cheerfully send $300 worth of film through an average of 7 x-rays on every trip, a lot of it in pretty dodgy places, and at this point I do it absolutely without a worry. I’ll update this, with specifics, if my experience changes!

(nathan congdon)

original text at:

http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~qtluong/photography/lf/travel/lftravel.htm l

-- edward kang (ekang@cse.nd.edu), August 23, 2001.

I think there is confusion about the various ways to get film through airport security. Here are the ones I am aware of.

1. Checked Luggage - Relatively high powered x-ray used to search for explosives. 2. Carry-on Luggage - X-ray'ed on moving belt machine. 3. On-your Person Fixed Position Metal Detector - Checks for metal as you walk through the security checkpoint. 4. On-Your Person Hand Operated "Wand" Metal Detector - Used by security to closely check your body with the "wand" metal detector. 5. Visual Check by Security Personal - Also known as "hand check" (not hand carry). Does not involve the use of any machine. Apparently not available in most countries outside USA.

So let's be very specific about which one we are discussing and which can (or cannot) cause problems. Personally I believe that when someone tells me that an x-ray machine may harm ISO 3200 film, but not ISO 100 film, I take that to mean that it will expose all film to some degree, but they don't think you will notice it.

-- Michael Feldman (mfeldman@qwest.net), August 23, 2001.

So far I have had no problems with getting hand inspection of loaded holders in the US. I tell the personal to hold them by the side to prevent accidental opening. They've been careful and considerate. I used to carry my film boxes on me under clothing, (all retaped) but on a recent trip where I carried eight boxes I couldn't do it, and asked for hand-inspection. No problem either to my surprise (this was on 6 different flight segments). They just use a particle detector and swipe them to look for explosives.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), August 23, 2001.

Marcus and others: if you send me the information, I'll be glad to post it on a LF page article.

Regarding Nathan's article, his experience is typical I believe. There was an article by Howard Bond about a trip to Europe where he measured with a densitometer the amount of exposure received by the film. After several X-ray runs, he found it to be less than 1/10 of a stop. However, "typical" is not good enough for me. Not all X-ray machines are the same. You always take a risk. I've been burned, so I am not willing to do it again if not necessary.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), August 23, 2001.

To answer your question about whether X-rays will damage film. Yes they will, there is no disputing this. In addition, it is an accumulative effect (i.e. the more times the film is x-rayed the more damage is done) so one trip throught the machine may not have a noticable affect, but pass it through several times in the course of a trip abroad and your film is screwed.

BTW, I just returned from a trip abroad and could not have my film hand inspected at Gatwick in London. After repeated requests to have it hand inspected they just flat refused. Yes, they do have signs posted that the x-rays will have no affect on the film, but this is pure bullshit and don't you beleieve it.

Unfortunately, both directions, we were rushed to catch our connecting flight (due to the crapy layout of the Gatwick airport) and also of course due to the poor air traffic control and poor ground traffic control at Gatwick.

My suggestion is to avoid the British airports at all costs if you value your film. If at all possible, try to get a flight which is a direct connection to your international destination from here in the U.S.

I've had no problems within the U.S. getting film hand checked, but international is another story.



-- S Ratzlaff (ratzlaff@ticnet.com), August 23, 2001.

O.K., seems like Carry-on Luggage X-ray (on moving belt machine, at gate) is not as potentially harmful as I thought based on Nathan Congdon and other posts. (I had incorrectly thought that the new CAT scan type x-rays are being used here - but apparently, they are only being used for checked baggage. It is a no-brainer not to put your sheet film there).

Because of the uncertainty over whether courier companies (DHL, Fed Ex, etc.) x-ray packages sent to them for air travel (and what type of x-ray, if any they employ) shipping film via such courier is out of the question for me.

The most elegant solution, when possible, seems to be to stuff the film in a pocket and walk through the security check point. Not only is your film certain to be safe, but you get an adrenaline rush to set the tone for your upcoming travel adventures.

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@yahoo.com), August 23, 2001.

I highly doubt that FedEx, UPS, etc. use damaging x-rays (at least with the US). I have ordered plenty of sheet film from B&H and others that has been delivered by FedEx and there has never been a problem.

-- Peter Shier (pshier@mindspring.com), August 23, 2001.


I've up to now taken rollfilm through security and customs. Since I've moved up to LF where can I order the Habuba x-ray safety case? How much does it cost?


-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), August 24, 2001.


I wish I could give you the costs and the purchasing information on the lead film bag. My brother purchased it in a store that specializes in professional equipment at my request when I asked him to bring the 5x7 Fuji Velvia back to the US. On the back of the bag it says - HAKUBA PHOTO INDUSTRIES CO., LTD. If you would like, I can ask my brother the name of the store. You might check some of the larger internet/mail order houses here in the US. I have to believe that they have a similar product that would be capable of holding a box or two of 4x5 or even 5x7 film.

-- Michael Kadillak (m.kadillak@home.com), August 25, 2001.

I found the HAKUBA lead film pouch at the B&H website under the film section for $20. It was rated at 1600 ASA.

-- Michael Kadillak (m.kadillak@home.com), August 25, 2001.

It's definitely safer to carry film in the hand checked luggage. Even the X-Ray gate should be safe for low speed films. The lead bags are not a good idea any more. The operators of CT scans will push the machinery to see what's in there. I had asked B&H (1999) about the safety of shipping companies some years ago and here is what Henry Posner, Director of Sales, replied: "We have never experienced nor has any customer reported any difficulty whatsoever with film sent from B&H to an overseas location."

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), August 26, 2001.

Paul, What is meant by “hand checked luggage”? Many of the posts above have said that for international travel, hand checking of luggage is not an option in most places outside the USA. What is an x- ray gate? Is that the metal detector you walk through or the moving belt machine that x-ray's your luggage?

It is certainly possible that FedEx and other airfreight companies do not x-ray packages from known shippers with established accounts (B&H Photo, etc.), but might x-ray (high intensity x-ray designed to spot explosives) for a package shipped by an individual. The original subject of this thread is how to get film to and from international travel locations. The idea was that maybe you could ship your exposed film home after a photo shoot, rather than have to deal with airport security.

-- Michael Feldman (mfeldman@qwest.net), August 26, 2001.

Michael, excuse my approximate english and a bit off topic answer. Thinking twice, yes it could well be that individual invoices are treated differently from known companies invoices. I assumed perhaps wrongly that it was the airports rather than the shipping companies who carried the checkings. I should have said "X-Ray machine at the boarding gate". From what I have gathered, they are still safe for films, but the baggage hold CT scanners used in some airports are destructive. The CT scanners search for explosives, therefore a lead bag will appear suspect and might call for a closer inspection (the operator will stop the belt, zoom on the suspect item and increase intensity, this will result in worse film exposition to radiation). The cabin luggage checks are mostly for arms; although things are unfortunately changing for worse, I suppose most terrorists do not wish to participate in a general firework! I would think the gargo freight is not checked as intensely as the passengers luggages. It would be difficult to target a particular plane by sending a parcel through Fedex or another company, but no need to say, that's just a personal opinion. Well I guess we are entering a sensitive debate and I hope I've not been too talkative!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), August 26, 2001.

I came across this on the web this morning, and it would rather appear to change the rules of the game for safely moving film around. I've included a couple of paragraphs here, but the whole piece is well worth looking at, especially to see what the fogged film samples look like. This problem is getting nasty!

http://www.kodak.com/country/US/en/motion/support/technical/xr ay4.shtml

> Baggage X-RAY Pre-scans

> This information is presented as an alert to travelers carrying unprocessed > film. A new FAA-certified explosive detection system is being used in more > than 50 international airports to examine (x-ray) luggage. The InVision > CTX-5000SP, produced by InVision Technologies, Inc., employs conventional > x-ray and cat scan technology. > The system pre-scans baggage to evaluate it for any potential threat > (explosive), then scans further using a focused, more intense narrow width > beam if suspicious materials are detected.. This concentrated high-energy beam > (1cm wide / 100 - 300 mR in power) is causing fog damage to unprocessed > photographic films. By comparison, older, conventional x-ray inspection units > produced less than 1mR of energy and after "many" passes through these > systems, unprocessed films could exhibit a radiation caused effect. > Systems employing this new technology start with an initial inspection at > lower x-ray intensity. If anything is deemed suspicious about the shape, size > or content of objects in the luggage, it automatically triggers additional > scanning with the CTX-5000SP machine. > The silver halide content of film and the metal container it may be packaged > in are sufficient to trigger a high intensity x-ray scan. > A sample of unexposed 16mm film that has been scanned by the CTX-5000SP is > shown below and is presented here to give the reader some idea of its > appearance and severity. This particular piece of film is Kodak VISION 320T > Color Negative Film (7277).

> Kodak suggests a number of common sense precautions: > > * Never ship unprocessed film as checked luggage with commercial airlines. > * If you plan to hand-carry unprocessed film on an airplane at an > international airport, contact the airport security office well in advance of > your flight time and see if they will agree to conduct a manual inspection. > * Bring a light-tight changing bag in case it is needed. > * Relative to hand inspection, Kodak learned of a new procedure where a cotton > swab was rubbed on the outside of an unopened camera bag and then the tip of > the swab was placed in an analyzer, presumably to chemically detect any trace > amounts of explosive that are always present after handling. More information > about this inspection technique will be reported as data becomes available. > * Be cautious with short-ends and other film purchased from re-sellers. Ask > about the source of the film, and consider shooting a test before you use it > in production. > * Check the policies of commercial package and mail carriers and reputable > courier services regarding x-ray scanning in the cities where you will be > receiving and shipping unprocessed film. Kodak can assist in making > arrangements.

-- Christopher Campbell (cbcampbell@mediaone.net), August 28, 2001.

Christopher, would you agree that the X-Ray machinery at the boarding gate used for hand held luggage should still be safe for film, or have they integrated the same power technology used for checked luggage?

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), August 28, 2001.

Space should be suppressed in the above link to Kodak. There is some interesting but alarming stuff in there. They say reports are made that in some airports CTX scanners have been implemented to check the hand held luggage already. (They are easy to recognize: http://www.invision-tech.com) If there is no possibility to have the luggage hand checked, that means a pretty bad journey for any photographer carrying film.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@smile.ch), August 28, 2001.

Paul is correct, an extra space in the word "xray" crept into my prior post for the URL of the Kodak page on X-rays. The correct URL is:

http://www.kodak.com/country/US/en/motion/support/technical/xr ay4.shtml

I have never paid attention to the manufacturer of X-ray equipment in hand luggage scanners before, but we obviously need to keep our eyes open for the InVision Technologies CTX 5000.

-- Christopher Campbell (cbcampbell@mediaone.net), August 28, 2001.

This is very annoying. Simply pasting the full URL for the Kodak page into the "Post an Answer" box for this forum breaks the line at the word "xray", and apparently inserts a "space" character. As Paul says, simply remove that space, and the URL is good to go.

-- Christopher Campbell (cbcampbell@mediaone.net), August 28, 2001.

I used leadbag for 120 films. About 50% of the time, the security guard asked me to open my bag and see what blocks their "view". So I think the best way is to "smuggle" the films under cloths thru the safe gate. Of course, 8x10 films are pretty hard to do so.

-- yongfei (yongfei.lin@sabre.com), August 29, 2001.

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