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Tips for bringing film through airport security and the TSA X-rays and the new CT scanners

So you love to travel and you love to shoot film? If so, you’ll often find yourself in an airport security line with a bag full of film. So what about those TSA X-rays and the new TSA CT Scanners? What effect can they have on your film?

This is a question we hear from our customers often. We have everything you need to know on the effects of the new CT Scanners, the traditional X-Ray scanners along with helpful tips to ease your mind on your next trip or when planning future film travels.

Airport security X-Ray your film


FAQs – Your Film and CT Scans/X-Rays

TSA CT Scanners

While not at many airports yet, Kodak Alaris warns that the new TSA CT scanners WILL damage unprocessed film. Currently being rolled out in the US and other countries, just one scan from the CT Scanner could destroy your unprocessed film.

When you make your way to the front of the line, just politely tell a TSA agent you have photographic film and you would like to request a hand-check.

Here are a few ways to keep your film organized and accessible for an efficient TSA experience:

  • Take your film out of all canisters and wrappers.
  • Place it in a transparent, ziplock bag.
  • Keep your film in a side pocket or other easy-access area of your carry-on for quick removal.
  • Don’t keep film in any luggage or baggage that will be checked. This includes cameras that still have film in them.
  • Consider shipping your exposed film to the film lab for processing prior to your return trip… It’s easy if you take some prepaid mailers from The Darkroom.
TSA CT Scanner
This is what TSA’s new CT scanners look like.

TSA plans to have up to 145 units in place at airports around the nation by the start of 2020, along with 16 units at federal testing facilities.


TSA X-Ray Scanners

Most signs at TSA security checkpoints indicate film below 800 ISO will not be affected by the x-rays and, in our experience, this appears to be pretty accurate. We’ve sent dozens of rolls through x-rays (when the option to hand-check was not available) and the machines didn’t seem to have a very noticeable effect on the film—especially our black & white rolls.

Processed film is not affected by x-rays.

TSA X-Ray Scanner


What is the most ideal way to safely get my film through security?

Don’t keep film in checked baggage!

Checked baggage often goes through equipment with higher energy X rays, but X-ray equipment used to inspect carry-on baggage uses a very low level of x-radiation that will not cause noticeable damage to most films. The high-dose X-ray scan on checked baggage can damage film immediately and corrections can’t be made at the processing lab. See below for examples of how X-rays affect film in checked baggage.

We always recommend getting your film hand-checked if possible, especially if you’re travel will include multiple x-ray scans. Even if it is below 800 ISO. We prefer to err on the safe side when your sweet analog memories could be at risk. When you make your way to the front of the line, just politely tell a TSA agent you have photographic film and you would like to request a hand-check.

If you do want to check film in your luggage, you can buy specialized film bags for X-ray scanners

Xray film Filmguard Bag

Filmguard Bag specializes in protecting film in X-ray scanners by lining the vinyl bag with lead. Features include the ability to protect against fogging/streaking of unprocessed film with different sizes that can hold thirty-five rolls of 35mm film, or three 50-sheet boxes of 4×5″ film, or a small camera with a few rolls.

Note: We haven’t tried these bags and don’t know how well they work.

Here are a few ways to keep your film organized and accessible for an efficient TSA experience:

• Take your film out of all canisters and wrappers.

• Place it in a transparent, ziplock bag.

• Keep your film in a side pocket or other easy-access area of your carry-on for quick removal.

• Don’t keep film in any luggage or baggage that will be checked. This includes cameras that still have film in them.

• Consider shipping your exposed film to the film lab for processing… preferably to The Darkroom.

 

Instant Film

Always have instant film hand checked and never have it scanned through the x-ray machine. It must be hand checked. Film that’s wrapped in silver wrapping will likely be opened by the TSA agents, so you’ll save time and have it done with more care if you prepare it yourself prior. Anything instant such as Polaroid, Fuji pack film, and Instax will be fogged with muddy shadows when scanned by the x-ray machines.

The Darkroom Tote Bag

Tote

The Darkroom tote bags are manufactured with 100% cotton fiber, a natural color, and 27” reinforced straps.

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Index of Film

Photography film index

The Darkroom’s comprehensive index of film types; characteristics, examples, and reviews ☆☆☆☆☆.

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What if I can’t get my film hand-checked?

If for some reason you don’t have time, aren’t permitted, or totally forget to request a hand-check for your film, don’t sweat it. The odds are in your favor. We’ve gathered a handful of our x-rayed film scans—most of which went through an x-ray a total of 6 times and still produced great results!

Kodak TMAX400 U.S. X-RAY 4 TIMES

 

Ilford SFX 200 EU X-Ray 6 times

Ilford DELTA 3200 EU X-RAY 6 times

 

Examples of how X-ray effects film in checked baggage.

Below illustrates the extreme effects of X-rays when scanned in checked luggage.

If you’re curious, here’s what to expect when your film is scanned in check baggage.

Source: Kodak.com

Exposure from checked baggage scanners can have an extreme effect and fog film.  Fog typically appears as soft-edged bands 1/4 to 3/8 inch (1 to 1.5 cm) wide. The orientation of the fog stripe depends on the orientation of the film in the scanner relative to the X-ray beam. The X-ray banding is often linear or wavy running lengthwise or horizontally on the film. Whether the undulating wavelengths is visible depends on the photographic content. Busy scenes will obscure or lessen X-ray effects, otherwise, the photo may display some signs of wavy lines or fogging.

black-and-white negative films – Patterns in dark areas
color-negative films – Neutral or brown patterns in the dark area
slide film – Neutral or brown Patterns in the light areas

800 speed film scanned with Examiner 3DX 6000 X-Ray check baggage scanner

As an example of how X-ray effect film, below is an unexposed KODAK VISION 200T negative film scanned by a checked-luggage scanner.

13 replies on “Tips for bringing film through airport security and the TSA X-rays and the new CT scanners”

Thanks for posting guys. This article is very accurate and consistent with my personal experience. I travel all the time and always ask for a hand check. It’s easiest to have all your film (inc. camera if it has film in it) in a separate bag so you can just hand that all to the security agent. One thing I will add is that if you are dealing with a foreign country that doesn’t speak English, don’t be afraid to be stern with the security that it can’t go through the X-ray. Throughout south east Asia one of the ways I was allowed to do this was by taking a picture for the security personnel to prove the camera is functional. Otherwise be nice and grateful that the security is treating your camera and film better than the baggage personnel sure would.
Cheers!

I aways put my film in a lead “airport xray secure xray” bag. I keep it in my carry on. It almost always prompts a hand check when they put it through the xray scanner. Too many times have I had a hassel with the security for a hand check. They even once did a hand and sent it through the xray machine anyway. That was in India, but this is the exception. Almost everywhere else they ask what’s on the lead bag and I tell them it’s film. They usually just do a quick check and let me through. Less problems this way (at least in my experience).

Great info and examples. I often travel with Ilford Delta 3200 and always assumed It was toast if it went through any x-ray machine. I have a small stockpile of x-rayed rolls, (from EU airport security that refused to handcheck film and when I’ve forgotten I had it in my bag going through museum security), that I’ve been afraid to shoot. I won’t let it go to waste now!

I’ve always sent instant film through the carry on x-ray machines and have never noticed a problem. But then I purposely shoot expired instant film most of the time, so any x-ray effects would be just another imperfection I actually want the film to produce.

[…] Further readinghttps://filmadvance.com/2013/10/how-to-flying-with-film/https://www.japancamerahunter.com/2012/01/traveling-with-film-by-tobias-weisserth/https://thedarkroom.com/bringing-film-airport-security-effects-x-rays-film/https://www.digitalrev.com/article/travel-horror-what-happened-film-xray-scan-11-times […]

Be warned. Lisbon airport has some very different ideas then the airports I’ve taken film through in Kuwait, Pakistan, India, Dubai, Amman, Rome, Istanbul, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Luang Phrabang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, New York City, Vancouver, etc… (the list goes on and on).

No friends of photographers, I can’t feel ashamed saying the airport security guards here and their managers are real bastards. Despite transferring through this airport in 2018 and being given a hand inspection upon request, on this transfer I was forced to X-ray my film in order to pass – and that was just transferring, not even going through immigration. No matter how long I tried – even speaking with the head of airport security – the message was the same: if it goes past security it goes through the X-ray and that is final. I asked what they do with professional photographers – and they insisted that all professionals did their research properly and knew that they needed special written permission from ANAC for their film. Of course ANAC was completely closed on weekends and didn’t take last minute quick turnaround submissions anyway. I have never had to apply to a civil aviation authority for permits to get film hand inspected, and even now I don’t really see much in the way of letting people know that’s what they have to do. So for those of you going to or from Lisbon, or even transferring through – be warned. If I had instant film it would be totally toast. Not eager to see how my infrared and high iso color rolls are going to look 🙁

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