Does x-ray scanning really damage film?


One of the standard safety procedures at the airport is having your baggage go through the x-ray scanner. With this, a lot of our readers have been asking us if it would be safe to have their unprocessed/unused film inspected via x-ray.

The answer is it will damage it. According to Kodak, the radiation emitted by the x-ray machine at airports, especially when repeated, will cause damage to the film called “fogging” and/or a wave-like line over the roll.

Not all is lost though. There’s a bit of leeway when it comes to the amount of radiation a roll can handle before fogging happens. It’s also worth mentioning that the effects are cumulative. Meaning the more you send your roll through the x-ray scanner, the more damage it gets.

Rolls with speeds of ISO 50 to 400 are less sensitive to damage compared to films with speeds of ISO 800 and above. It is said that slower speeds can go through the scanner up to 5 times before any significant damage occurs. On the other hand, faster film speeds can get damaged with one pass.

(Click here to see the effects.)

So what should you do?

It is recommended to have your film as carry-ons and ask airport security to have it inspected by hand. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation in the U.S. allow for a hand search for photographic film and equipment, if required. Although, not every airport may implement this.

If they refuse to, don’t put the film in your check in luggage. The x-ray radiation is usually stronger for checked in baggage compared to carry-ons. You can also place your roll/s inside a lead-lined bag, however, this may cause the inspector to increase the strength of the x-ray to see through the bag.

As a last resort, you can have your film shipped via Federal Express (FedEx) or DHL and they will ship it without going through the x-ray. But expect that these shipping companies will carefully hand check it.

The Film Traveler

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