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Airport x-ray scanners and film

Hi all,

I’ve been travelling a lot with 120 film and have had varying results when requesting that it be hand checked at airports. At hotels it’s usually not a problem.

I’d like to know where you’ve had similar problems and if, most importantly, there have been negative effects on your film after they’ve gone through the scanner.

To get started:
At Gatwick they have new scanners safe up to ISO 3200. The duty manager categorically refused to hand check my film (always ISO 400) but they were all fine when I got them developed.

In Cairo they refused to hand check but the scanner had a sign “safe up to ISO 1600”. Fingers crossed, the film isn’t developed yet.

In Dakar I had by far the worst experience – two of the security agents screamed in my face and I had no idea what they were saying except that they were going to take me out past immigration again and not let me through if I didn’t put the film through – this was a problem as my passport had already been stamped out of Senegal. I am still waiting to get the film developed, but the scanner looked like it was about 30 years old, so I’m fearing the worst. I’ll update once they’re developed.

Anyone else have disaster stories? I’d rather just not take film if I know that I’m likely to encounter bad x-ray scanners and ruin 20 rolls of film.


by Amber Maitland at 2010-09-09 17:11:01 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Amber, I use a large Lead bag made by OP Tech that i can fit a ton of 120 film into and it can pass through the scanners a dozen or so times without any problems. It saves me a ton of time hassling with Airports. Here’s the link for the bag and I hope it helps


by Jason C. Andrew | 09 Sep 2010 21:09 | Brookyln, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Hey Jason, thank you. I actually have an ancient one of those that I haven’t used in years because I assumed that if they saw it in my carry on when it goes through the scanner, they would make me open it and rescan the contents (since they can’t see through the bag). Has this ever happened to you? I’m assuming not, since you’re recommending it!

by Amber Maitland | 11 Sep 2010 18:09 | | Report spam→

in the US, Canada, Russia and Portugal never had a problem….my wife had a problem, however, in Charles D. in Paris, they refused, or rather, the woman checking her at the time (this past january) refused to hand-swap her 120, and after repeated requests, she basically forced her to send the stuff through the xray….but when she returned to toronto and developed the film in our kitchen, there were no major problems….

actually, in truth, iv’e run 120 through the xrays and never really had problems either…i dont even recall if i had any fog…but knowing my work, impossible to tell the difference anyway ;)))….

the xrays are more potent on board, truth be told, and maybe a lead bag is good once up in the air….but again, i’ve never had a problem, but i only shoot with asa 400 or lower….

in truth, you are NOT likely to ruin your 20 rolls :)))….shoot the hell out of them when you land :))


good luck

by [former member] | 12 Sep 2010 01:09 (ed. Sep 12 2010) | Charlotte, NC, United States | | Report spam→
Peru and Argentine airport security people sucks about check by hand film. Use your bag, hope i can purchase one here in BA. All the best. In Peru i ask for have hand checked my film and the pigs hold a bottle of anise i purchase in Arequipa. If i don’t ask for anything i only pass by. In general security people in latin america are jerks.

by Hernan Zenteno | 12 Sep 2010 01:09 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
I once had to carry a lot of unprocessed but exposed film from Poland and couldn’t risk damage because it was for a paid job. Before I left for the airport I learned to say and also had a friend write something like ‘please, this film cannot be xrayed’ in Polish, and also gave myself a big time buffer. I put my personal items through the xray first and then I refused to put the film through, pleading my case with note over and over. They were really firm and completely unamused, but I stood my ground and finally they decided to bring out bomb sniffing dogs. They put the rolls of film all over the ground in long rows and the dogs walked up and down the aisles sniffing each roll. And then I was free to go. A little belligerent on my part but it worked.

by [former member] | 12 Sep 2010 15:09 | on the road, United States | | Report spam→
Thank you everyone. Erica, I think that it’s amazing you stuck to your guns, I am too worried generally that they can refuse me boarding and, as in Dakar, they simply aren’t that interested in making sure I get through security and on to my plane. I’ve ordered another lead bag, let’s see what happens on the next trip.

(As a sidenote, it’s extraordinary how many people no longer seem to understand the concept of “film”, and I think that’s where all the suspicion comes from).

by Amber Maitland | 14 Sep 2010 11:09 | | Report spam→
A single pass, or even two or three, probably won’t do any damage unless they turned it up way high or it’s an old, faulty machine that’s likely dangerous to its operators. The real issue is REPEATED, CUMULATIVE, exposure.

That’s why we always ask for hand inspection. Putting the film all in plastic, see-through ziplock bags, with a few rolls of high-speed 3200 thrown in there, usually gets the trick done in most countries. Having a LOT of film and equipment also helps, because it “proves” that you’re a professional. I mean, when I toss several ziplocks with 150 rolls of film onto their table, they know I’m serious.

Now this may be harder in countries without good film processing, but another tactic is that they only potentially X-ray your unexposed film; you can test one roll afterwards to see if it’s OK or not. Your exposed film was already developed in country! This saves time when you get home and everything is already done.

Routinely I send my cameras through machines with the one roll inside the camera, and have never had any noticeable problems. I don’t worry about it because by the next time I fly, that roll is in the “exposed” bag either already processed or asking for hand-inspection, and therefore it got that one and only that one pass.

On a long trip where you may fly half a dozen or a dozen times, you HAVE to ask for hand-inspection. But if you have to give up the argument once or even twice, it should be OK.

by [former member] | 14 Sep 2010 14:09 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
I ask for hand inspection in the US, and I’ve never been turned down. I shoot 120 format 160 and 400 speed film mostly but I always throw a few rolls of 800 in there, and if they hesitate I tell them I push process my film. I don’t know if they know what that means, but the TSA’s own website says push-processed film should be hand-checked.

Coming back from Lima, Peru I was not able to get a hand-check despite my polite request. My film had no damage.

I try to get hand-checks when possible to reduce cumulative exposure, but I don’t stress too much over the occasional x-ray. If I knew the film would be x-rayed more than once or twice, I’d bring my domke lead bags.

by Noah Addis | 14 Sep 2010 18:09 | Philadelphia, United States | | Report spam→
Hi Amber,

Sorry for the late reply. I’ve never had anyone ask to rescan the contents. Usually what I do is pull the bag out of my camera bag and place it in a tray along with my other crap. This usually works well because it shows them your not trying to hide anything and once they open the bag and see its film, they just hand check the contents. I’ve used it throughout Africa, Europe and Russia and I’ve never had a problem and usually travel with a 100 plus rolls 120 when I travel.

Only downside is they are a bit heavy but I don’t really care since I would rather have extra weight then ruin my film

by Jason C. Andrew | 15 Sep 2010 20:09 | Brookyln, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Did anybody have any experience on taking developer&fixer with you? In your suitcase offcourse? or will that for sure cause poblems?

by Rogier ten Hacken | 15 Sep 2010 21:09 | | Report spam→
I’ve run a calibrated geiger counter through a couple of x-ray scanners and found that the dosage is about equivalent to that from a 5 hour flight across the USA at 30,000 feet. Scanners in other countries might have higher output, e.g. some might use older technology with lower sensitivity sensors that require more exposure. X-ray dosage is cumulative, so multiple scans result in increased risk of fogging.

by Jim Michael | 15 Sep 2010 22:09 | Atlanta GA, United States | | Report spam→
I got scanned twice in Kuwait (allowed one hand check), once in Abu Dhabi, and once at Heathrow. After getting scanned twice in Kuwait I thought I’d play a game and see how many times I can get a handful of rolls scanned, shoot at 3200, and see if they are ruined. I tried to get a hand check at Abu Dhabi but they refused as well.

Results to come in the next few months. I’m expecting 8 scans’ish on a handful of rolls (120mm, 35mm tx at 3200, and some colour) from four different airports.

by Nigel Gray | 15 Sep 2010 23:09 | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Developer + fixer in checked baggage is no problem. Obviously powders are easier than liquids, but I have transported small bottles of liquid concentrates as well, in triple-plastic bags so any explosion won’t ruin everything else in your bag. Powder packets should be unopened.

by [former member] | 15 Sep 2010 23:09 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
Hey Nigel, i am anxious to know what develop your experiment.

by Hernan Zenteno | 16 Sep 2010 01:09 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
Years ago my Kodachrome was scanned and it all shifted magenta … quite disturbing. I never use the lead shield bags after they just cranked up the machines in order to get through the shielding, and then force you to take the film out of it so they can scan it.

Since I mostly shoot b&w now I think the refusal of the scanners to hand check the film may not as big of a problem as it used to be. (The jury is still out on this.)

Except in the US, scanners in Canada, and London Heathrow quite refuse to handcheck film any more. Passing though Vancouver, Canada last month when I was told that they scan all cameras with or without film, I removed the half shot roll of Kodachrome from it on the spot.

The security guard told me it was much easier to shoot digital now than deal with film when crossing airline borders.

The security agents tried hard to make me late for the flight, when I had them hand check the film. So they opened all the film boxes, removed all the film containers, swabed all the cartridges, and tossed them all back into my plastic bags for me. I wasn’t allowed access until I was given the bags back with the mess of it. They don’t want to have to do this very often, so they make it as painful as possible for us flyers, because it’s they who are forced to follow all these unwieldy rules to keep us ‘safe’.

Meanwhile, I try to fly as little as possible. Film is hard enough to shoot as it is.

by henley | 16 Sep 2010 08:09 | | Report spam→

All your film should be out of the containers and boxes. Just the rolls themselves, in see-through large ziplock bags. That way everything is already the state it will be when they gave it back to you. As a workflow issue you save time in the field anyway, with your film ready to go rather than needing to be unpacked. This is basic field procedure long before airports got stricter.

This cannot be stressed enough!

Again, large quantities and a professional attitude help. Give yourself extra time. When you do this, and often enough, it goes very fast.

I haven’t had ANY problems recently in USA, Germany, Hong Kong, China, less recently, France, UAE (Dubai), Jordan, Iraq.

by [former member] | 16 Sep 2010 16:09 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
It is possible to get film hand searched at Heathrow and othe UK airports.
You need to contact BAA in advance and speak to their security and performance dept who will let the security at the airport know in advance.

If anyone needs the contact let me know.

by [former member] | 16 Sep 2010 17:09 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Folks. Forget nice replies with Buenos Aires and Lima people security. Try a plan B, like bags for film. That is why i am curious about Nigel experiment.

by Hernan Zenteno | 17 Sep 2010 02:09 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
I have to head back to Kuwait/Iraq tomorrow, so I will once again be getting scanned at JFK, Heathrow, and Kuwait. I should have a total of 7 scans on Tx 400 @ 3200. I don’t return back home until December’ish, the unit hasn’t confirmed the exact fly out dates. Once I get home I’ll be sure to post and show.

by Nigel Gray | 19 Sep 2010 17:09 | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Add two more scans for JFK and Heathrow!

by Nigel Gray | 21 Sep 2010 18:09 (ed. Sep 21 2010) | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Mark, Could you provide me that contact information for BAA, please? Thank you.

by peak | 06 Oct 2010 15:10 (ed. Oct 6 2010) | Los Angeles, United States | | Report spam→
Airports will totally vary as people have stated before. The most trouble I had was in Warsaw a couple of months back. They brought over extra security with sub-guns to watch over me while they brought an 70 year old bomb sniffing dog over to sniff each 120 roll individually. I only had about 15 rolls of tri-x and a few Pan-F.

Flying thru Riga they were more than willing to handcheck. They then waived me through and I turned around looking for my film… and there it was on the belt! Ugh.

Anyways, there was no problem at all with the film once processed.

In short, allow A LOT of time to get thru security if you want your film hand checked. Unless you’re going thru a checkpoint that has a 40 year old x-ray machine, your film should be fine.

by Jason Muelver | 06 Oct 2010 18:10 | Chicago, United States | | Report spam→
In more than 15 years of traveling through airports all over the planet, I’ve never experienced anything that could be clearly ID’d as X-ray damage – closest thing I can think of is some odd streaks on a few frames of film that I saw once – and that was coming off an aircraft carrier, so it’s possible that wasn’t even X-ray related (the Navy was using some heavy signal gear that was doing a real workover on video gear – dunno if it could affect film as well).

Otherwise, no problems at all, and that includes trips with film getting hit over and over in multiple airports, including 3200ASA going through 3rd-world scanners with no lead bag protection.

Also, have been told by scanner operators that there is no “intensity control” on the machines – what they dial up and down is their monitors, not the scanner itself.

I still use the lead bags, and it pretty much always works like this:

request visual inspection, get denied, then put film in lead bag through the machine. lead bag interferes with scanning visibility, and they then tell you that they require a visual inspection.

The magenta shift that someone mentioned on Kodachrome is more likely due to heat or film age, not exposure to a scanner.

Also have sent film via Fed Ex and DHL from India and Afghanistan, pretty good bet it went through some industrial strength scanners, and no damage there either.

I’ve seen film from other photographers that showed more clear evidence of scanner damage, but even then, pretty limited, and very rare.

I still do the song and dance to work around the scanners at airports, but at this point, it’s motivated primarily by curiousity about how soft the security is than with concern for the film.

I’m going to be running some tests on US/international/APO systems in the coming months. will update.


by teru kuwayama | 07 Oct 2010 05:10 | Musa Qala, Helmand, Afghanistan | | Report spam→
Re: Peak

Roy Hill
Head of Policy and Performance BAA
+44 (0)2087452181

by [former member] | 07 Oct 2010 11:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
fyi – i had a new one last month. Home Land Security at JFK said my film, fresh from BH, was laced with explosive residue. Needless to say I did not depart the country with it. This adds a new level of debate for my future travels- number of times it goes through the x-ray vers confiscation as a consequence of hand inspection.

by adam nadel | 09 Oct 2010 16:10 | united states, United States | | Report spam→
Mark, Thank you!

Teru, in all 15 years plus of working for all types of photographers in Los Angeles area, I’ve seen plenty of x-ray damaged film and having to fix it in printing or scanning (actually photoshopping) I personally got 30+ rolls of 3200 Tmax fried from Los Angeles LAX last year. This topic became very personal to me.

Adam, I got pulled over by the TSA in Philadelphia PHL last month for the same thing, traces of ? on B&H film. It’s either some personal gripes of hand checking or B&H film sales dept. is up to something.

by peak | 09 Oct 2010 16:10 (ed. Oct 9 2010) | Los Angeles, United States | | Report spam→
I’ve been traveling overland from Nepal through the Middle East to Europe for the last year and half, carrying a huge bag of 120 (including expired stuff), and been through countless, countless, X-Ray machines from the most high tech, to the earliest proto-types, and still now when I get those rolls developed everything is relatively fine (expect from cowboy labs scratching negs).

Personally I’m at the stage where I don’t really worry.

by Leave Me Here | 10 Oct 2010 12:10 | Budapest, Hungary | | Report spam→
Handchecks possible at:

-Schiphol Amsterdam
-Indonesia (Jakarta +)

I had the films in large see-through ziplog bags and said that they were to be pushed-processed and for that i rather be sure then ruined, that helped in Amsterdam the guy was very helpfull. In Indonesia there were no problems at all and they were very kind and willing to do a handcheck.

Not possible at:
Dubai Airport, absolute no hand check, so bring your lead bags.

by Rogier ten Hacken | 22 Oct 2010 05:10 | | Report spam→
Rome then Tel Aviv and back again with 20 rolls of HP5.. Requested handsearches but both airports refused. I should have devved film in Tel Aviv but el stupido.. i didnt and have 14 rolls slightly marked by x rays.. Fixable in PS but what a pain in the ass.. Next time i shoot film abroad im devving before my return!

by Stewart Weir | 28 Oct 2010 12:10 | | Report spam→
Stewart, what kind of markings from xrays? Can you post an example?

by Amber Maitland | 28 Oct 2010 12:10 | | Report spam→
Any experiences recently with airports in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi?

by Joel Sackett | 30 Oct 2010 20:10 | Puget Sound, Washington, United States | | Report spam→
I don’t even ask for a manual inspection any more. I put it in lead bags in my backpack, I take the laptop out for x-ray and leave the rest in, the last half a dozen times they haven’t even asked to look inside the lead bags.

by [former member] | 31 Oct 2010 01:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Andrew, ok for avoid the uncomfortable side with security people. But do you have all ok after how many xrays? 4, 8, 12? i really founded that not mention anything and go away is the best thing to do but i don’t know how many passes of x ray can i submit my bag of rolls.

by Hernan Zenteno | 31 Oct 2010 03:10 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
by the way, i only proved that four times with 400 ASA is not a problem.

by Hernan Zenteno | 31 Oct 2010 03:10 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
Hernan, I have film that has gone through 8 xrays in lead bags during the course of a trip and it processed fine at the other end.

by [former member] | 31 Oct 2010 16:10 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Many thanks Andrew. Hey Nigel, how comes your experience?

by Hernan Zenteno | 31 Oct 2010 23:10 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
I just travelled back from Afghanistan to Canada and my film went through military and civilian xrays and its fine…… I used a lead bag and the film speed I had was 100 and 400. I even left a roll in the camera half exposed to see if would do anything and it was still fine.

by Rafal Gerszak | 01 Nov 2010 00:11 | Toronto , Canada | | Report spam→
I saw McCurry give a talk where he said his Nat Geo film would regularly go through 8-10 scanners and he never had a single problem.

by Ian Taylor | 01 Nov 2010 09:11 | Manila, Philippines | | Report spam→

by Paulo Nunes dos Santos | 01 Nov 2010 10:11 (ed. Nov 1 2010) | Dublin, Ireland | | Report spam→
domke lead lined film bag B&H KID!!!!

by gary VanDeGriek | 23 Mar 2011 19:03 | ???, Cook Islands | | Report spam→
I had some 400asa Ilford slightly damaged in Thailand in 2008. There was a smoky background haze in some frames.

by Matt Sutton | 23 Mar 2011 23:03 | Sydney, Australia | | Report spam→
recently back from Nepal and India. all my films carried in lead pouches called sima filmshield. you can easily find them for sale on the web.(they absolutely worth!)

passed almost 15 x ray controls in 40 days at airports or worst at temples or train stations. films developed back in europe, absolutely no problems. i carried 120 and 35 mm 400 asa color and bw films. i left one 400 asa 120 film always outside the x ray bag to see the difference: it was then shot and developed home and there is visible flare, lack of contrast, less quality in general. any film that was inside my camera during controls anyway seem the same than those inside the pouches. buy these pouches and simply you’ll stop worring about x rays controls.

by Federico Caponi | 25 Mar 2011 10:03 | Warsaw, Poland | | Report spam→
recently i’ve also attended a workshop with an italian magnum photographer. he showed us all his cameras that uses now (digital) and all the old leicas he worked with years ago. he always carried films in that kind of lead pouches too.

by Federico Caponi | 25 Mar 2011 10:03 | Warsaw, Poland | | Report spam→
Allegedly this is why Sebastiao Salgado switched from film to digital for his Genesis project. The hassles at airport were too much for his assistant.

by Pierre Claquin | 26 Mar 2011 09:03 | Dhaka, Bangladesh | | Report spam→

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Amber Maitland, field producer Amber Maitland
field producer
[undisclosed location].
Jason C. Andrew, Photographer Jason C. Andrew
Brookyln, Ny , United States ( JFK )
Hernan Zenteno, Photographer Hernan Zenteno
Buenos Aires , Argentina ( EZE )
Noah Addis, Documentary Photographer Noah Addis
Documentary Photographer
Philadelphia , United States ( PHL )
Rogier ten Hacken, Photojournalist Rogier ten Hacken
[undisclosed location].
Jim Michael, Jim Michael
Atlanta Ga , United States
Nigel Gray, Taker of Photos Nigel Gray
Taker of Photos
Sarasota, Fl , United States
henley, Photographer henley
[undisclosed location].
peak, Photographer peak
(Scanner Friend of FilmShooters)
Strasbourg , France ( SXB )
Jason Muelver, Photographer Jason Muelver
Chicago , United States ( ORD )
teru kuwayama, I/O teru kuwayama
New York , United States
adam nadel, photographer adam nadel
United States , United States
Leave Me Here, Photographer Leave Me Here
(loading more film)
Melbourne , Australia
Stewart Weir, Photographer Stewart Weir
London , United Kingdom
Joel Sackett, photographer Joel Sackett
Puget Sound, Washington , United States ( AAA )
Rafal Gerszak, Photographer Rafal Gerszak
Vancouver , Canada
Ian Taylor, Photographer Ian Taylor
Bangkok , Thailand
Paulo Nunes dos Santos, Journalist & Photographer Paulo Nunes dos Santos
Journalist & Photographer
Dublin , Ireland
gary VanDeGriek, Writer, Photographer, Art gary VanDeGriek
Writer, Photographer, Art
(die mofo die!!!)
02139 , Afghanistan
Matt Sutton, photographer Matt Sutton
(film based)
Bangkok , Thailand
Federico Caponi, Photographer Federico Caponi
Warsaw , Poland
Pierre Claquin, Doctor / Photographer Pierre Claquin
Doctor / Photographer
(Lal bandor)
Lamballe , France


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