View Full Version : LF and Traveling Overseas

Michael Kadillak
16-May-2005, 12:38
Considered taking the 4x5 with me on an upcoming European trip and made several contacts with Fed Ex and DHL concerning sending myself film overseas to avoid the airport hassle that has been discussed here ad nausium. What I found out rather set me back a bit. First it is very expensive. Two boxes of 4x5 sheet film (100 sheet box of FP4+ and a 50 sheet box of Velvia) would run about $80 for a three day delivery and about $72 for a week delivery (Colorado to Germany). Second, it is completely up to customs of the country you are sending it to as to the control of the screening that could take place. In other words, you take your chances with no guarantees on the receiving end.

Domestically, Fed Ex can tell you straight faced that they do not X Ray packages but it is out of everyone's hands in Europe. Labels on the outside or not it is a crap shoot at best. At least they are being straight about it.

My options as I see them are to suck it up and let them X Ray it at the airport and hope for the best, try to acquire film at my destination without getting killed on the price or purchase post cards and focus (no pun intended) on schnitzel and beer (not necessarily in that order). I do not see the courier options as viable and I have no expectations that I can talk my way through the airport with a hand check. Been there and tried that.

Any of you jet setters with LF cameras have any recommendations?

Bottoms Up!

J. A. Berwocky
16-May-2005, 12:48
Why couldn't you have an internet saavy Euro supplier, like Robert White or Calumet, have it waiting for you at your hotel? What's that big German place - Man-something-which?

David A. Goldfarb
16-May-2005, 12:50
Germany is a civilized country where they sell LF film, so maybe if you say what cities you are visiting, some locals can recommend the best places to purchase film, and process it if you don't want to carry unprocessed film back.

I just don't worry about X-rays too much. I carry the film on board and let it go through the machine with no ill effects. Sometimes I put it in a lead bag as an extra precaution, and I haven't had any trouble doing that. I usually shoot Tri-X and haven't had any sheets ruined. You're shooting FP4+ and Velvia, so it's even less of a danger.

Arne Croell
16-May-2005, 13:12
I had my film (TMAX 100) X-rayed in my carry-on going from the US to Germany and vice versa without any problems so far. But buying in Germany is an option if you're in one of the bigger cities (Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Stuttgart etc.) that have a sizable number of professional photographers. There are also mail order stores, Calumet has a German branch, for instance. I would inquire ahead about availability, e.g. getting Ilfords products was bit dicey for a while due to their reorganisation after coming out of receivership. Where in Germany are you going?

Michael Kadillak
16-May-2005, 13:12

I purchased a Domke heavy lead shield bag that I could use. Did the screeners let it go through without taking it out of the lead bag? If so, that would not only save me a bunch of money and at the same time give me some hope that I could keep the risk manageable. I remember Michael Smith said that he used a large changing bag and let the screener run his hand over the edge of the film and that met their security criteria. He shipped his loaded Range Rover overseas and he took the changing bag with him as a normal part of his routine. ZMy preference would be to avoid this option if possible.

One way or another it will work out!


Michael Kadillak
16-May-2005, 13:15
We are flying into Frankfurt and staying near Nurnberg and commuting from there.

Thanks a bunch!

Juergen Sattler
16-May-2005, 13:20
I travel internationally a lot and often I will take my LF gear with me. I ALWAYS let them xray my film (carry-on) and have never had any problems whatsoever. Most of the times the film will be xrayed up to 8 times before I am back home and can develop it - never had any fogging. I think the fogging concerns are exagerated. Hand inspection carries more risks in my opinion than the xray machines.

chris jordan
16-May-2005, 13:44
Michael, here is my approach, which has worked so far at every airport I've been through except Dublin and Seattle (the security guys in Dublin being just clueless and those in Seattle being right-wing nazi subhuman turds-for-brains, as discussed in detail in a previous thread). Bring the film in your carry-on, and ask for hand inspection. When they say the box has to be opened, tell them it is professional film that will be destroyed if they open it. They will put up a fuss, then get the supervisor, who will argue a bit, and if you hang in there they will finally satisfy themselves with using one of those swabbing machines that doesn't subject the film to any x-ray exposure. If you are going through four airports, this ought to work for about three of them; the other one will force you to x-ray the film. Although this approach is kind of stressful, it does help to diminish any kind of cumulative effect from x-rays.

John Cook
16-May-2005, 14:29
Hi Michael,

Over the years I have developed an aversion to carrying anything I didn’t absolutely have to (just my passport and credit card) on an airplane and through the airports. Such a bother. And I’m getting less and less athletic as the decades roll by.

I took a month-long trip to England in 1984 and again in 1986. Only luggage for a thirty-day stay with my wife was a small shoulder bag each.

The first thing everybody does when preparing for a holiday trip is to purchase new clothes and toiletries. We purchased everything in London at Selfridges and Marks & Sparks, instead of here at JC Penney. Why drag skivvies, chinos and toothpaste to London?

All personal effects except the clothes on our backs were mailed back to the USA on the last day of our trip. The London post office had regulation corrugated cardboard cartons for a pound apiece. We marked them “Personal goods returning. Excess airline baggage” and paid no duty. Took six weeks to get home, but the cost was minimal.

Our shoulder bags were full of souvenirs (in order to pay the import duty at Customs) and, of course, the camera and film.

To make film inspection more simple, we shot on 6x9 120, which is almost LF. Inspectors don’t seem to have a clue about sheet film, but sort of recognize roll film as film.

The camera was a folding Plaubel rangefinder, but a Fuji RF would work as well. Some of the color negative we had processed at a pro lab in London, just to be sure.

David A. Goldfarb
16-May-2005, 14:32
I usually put it through in a heavy lead bag and I haven't been asked to remove it for X-ray without the bag. They see all the camera stuff and just seem pleased that I'm not making too much trouble. Things I take out and put in my checked luggage are

--little tools like screwdrivers

--Linhof cams (they look like scissors or blades in the X-ray) except for the one in the camera

--Cable releases (which I've had taken for syringes on the X-ray)

And since I've started doing that, I get fewer hand inspactions. I'm a little more worried about security types pawing through my bag than I am about X-ray damage to film.

Ted Harris
16-May-2005, 14:33
You noted that you are flying into Frankfurt. AT least one of the large German photo stores has several branches right in the airport. Make a phone call to them and see if they can have some film waiting for you right in their airport store.

jose angel
16-May-2005, 15:36
I -always- fly with a lot of rolls or sheet film in my hand bag. Security staff -always- refuse a hand inspection. Machines are certified to be safe for film up to 1600 ASA. Sometimes my unexposed tri-x sheets and apx 400 roll film have passed x-ray scanners several times, without any bit of damage. I´m not already worried about it. Perhaps I´m so reckless, but I have not any reason to say the opposite. I´m refering to swiss and spanish airports.

I suppose that film over 1600ASA are allowed to have a different treatment. Scans have a label to warn about it. I never use that films.

I really don´t believe on FedEx or DHL´s words. I know that big carriers use scaners for all the shipments, at least in Spain. My last consingment was delayed; let me to copy and paste the reason (copied from the UPS tracking service): "... THE PACKAGE WAS SUBJECT TO AN X-RAY INSPECTION PRIOR TO DELIVERY; A DELAY MAY RESULT... ".

If you will be there for a month, ask for a place to process your film in Frankfurt. I always process my film at home. Good luck,

jose angel
16-May-2005, 15:46
I forget to say that my delayed package was previously inspected and approved by the carrier agent. I think the safest way is to carry all the film in your hand bag.

Robert A. Zeichner
16-May-2005, 16:34
Michael, I traveled to Greece last May with three other photographers and all of our film was subjected to no less than 7 rounds of x-rays from Detroit to Amsterdam to Athens to Santorini and back. I had 100 and 400 speed B&W and color and can report no noticeable increase in fog. I had much film that required N+3 development to boot. No problems. I hope that info is of some help.

Michael Kadillak
16-May-2005, 17:03
My most sincere appreciation for all that responded in sharing their experiences. I was a bit frustrated this morning with the fact that the intended course to deal with this issue turned out to be far different than what I expected. At least I know better now.

Tomorrow I am going to call Calumet Germany and talk to them about a film source. Next it will be a call to the airport to inquire well in advance about screening options. May as well explore this to the fullest and see what I uncover. Lastly, it is comforting that many LF travelers have not experienced image degredation when force fed the standard screening ritual.


Michael Gordon
16-May-2005, 17:55
Like Chris Jordan, I have demanded that my film be hand-checked. The only place that has given me grief was the airport in Nice, France. Other than that, the TSA dolts and elsewhere have been fairly cooperative and courteous. Print and carry the TSA 'Transporting Film' guidelines. These support the notion that "Large Format" film is "Specialty Film" and that "you should remove [it] from your carry-on baggage and ask for a hand inspection". http://www.tsa.gov/public/interapp/editorial/editorial_1035.xml

When they see the big camera and big film and all the 'weird' crap that goes with it, they give you more respect and admiration. Just don't let on that you're a hobbyist - even if you are.

Will Strain
16-May-2005, 18:03
I know it doesn't work for straight sheet film... but I usually carry ready loads and have them hand checked. I have one that I flubbed, and so I turned it into a demo (and marked it as such...) So when a TSA lackey wants to start pulling them apart, I can show him that one, so he understands the mechanism...and it gives a good visual aid for explaining what is lightsensitive...etc.

Same thing for 120 film... I have a demo roll, still with the foil, so I can show they are not "cartridges"

I just keep those in my film bag.

Michael S. Briggs
16-May-2005, 23:04
My suggestion is to carry your film with you and, if the inspectors insist, allow it through the regular x-ray machines for carryon luggage. The machines used for carryon luggage are safe for at least a few passes.
This way you will know what has happened to your film and will be sure to have your film at your destination. There is no guarantees about what will happen to film going through customs -- how long it will take, whether an x-ray inspection will be done, or what temperatures it will be subjected to.

While in the US one is supposed to be able to get film hand inspected
(http://www.tsa.gov/public/interapp/editorial/editorial_1035.xml and 49 CFR - CHAPTER XII - PART 1544 (http://ecfrback.access.gpo.gov/otcgi/cfr/otfilter.cgi?DB=1&ACTION=View&QUERY=1544.211&RGN=BSEC&OP=and&QUERY=49&RGN=BTI&QUERY=5797&RGN=BSECCT&SUBSET=SUBSET&FROM=1&ITEM=1)), the inspectors can be extremely resistant.

But what ever you do, don't allow you film through the new technology x-ray machines. These function like CAT scanners to produce a 3D image and require a larger x-ray exposure. Everyone, including the manufacturers, agree that these machines will damage unprocessed film: http://www.invision-tech.com/products/film.htm.
They are used at many airports to inspect checked baggage, so never put unprocessed film in your checked baggage. (I wouldn't want to risk losing film by shipping it in checked bagage, anyway.) At a few airports these CAT-scan type machines might be used for an additional inspection of carryon luggage after using the regular x-ray macine if the inspector can't verify the luggage with the regular machine. These machines are required to be labeled with a sign instructing passengers that film should be removed from the luggage. All the machines that I have seen have this sign, and normally the inspectors verbally warn passengers. Here is a photo of this style of machine: http://www.invision-tech.com/products/ctx5500.htm. They are easily recognizable. CTX / InVision is the most common brand.

Also see Baggage X-ray Scanning Effects on Film at http://www.kodak.com/global/en/service/tib/tib5201.shtml.

Gene Crumpler
17-May-2005, 07:51
I've had Delta 100 and Fugi 160 x-rayed up to 8 times without any problems. I do mark any unexposed film I bring back as to how many inspections it went through and use it up locally.
I would not worry too much about this!

Emmanuel BIGLER
17-May-2005, 09:33
I wish you a pleasant trip to Europe.
If I you need a "refill" of your favourite large format film in Europe, I'm sure that all European readers of this forum will give you a good advice. For example you'll find 4x5" film easily in Paris, Lyons, Toulouse.... But probably not at the souvenir shop in Mont-Saint-Michel abbey ;-);-)

And also : one of our readers asked for a lab able to process 8"x10" E-6 'chromes in SW-France near Bayonne (the place where the bayonet mount is supposed to have been invented ;-) , and he found one quicker than me ;-) so finding a professional lab to process sheet film during your trip can also be interesting to you, this will solve the problem of those images being X-rayed before coming back home.

Have good flights and a good stay.

QT Luong
17-May-2005, 12:09
I carry 5x7 film that is cut and reboxed. About half of the time, what I hear is "if we cannot see it, we have to X-ray it" (which makes senses from a security point of view). With that in mind, you could carry your Velvia in quickloads. What concerns them also is that the boxes are retapped. With factory-tapped boxes, it should be easier.
So far, I did not notice problems from X-ray exposures going through major airports.

Nature Photo
17-May-2005, 16:49
Maybe it's a good idea to label items checked in. On domestic flights I had my checked-in luggage opened every time it contained a tripod -- Gitzo 1227 and a separate Arca B-1 ballhead. These are too big to carry on board and probably would not be allowed in the passenger compartment anyways. They also must look strange on Xrays. I anticipated that and attached self adhesive labels. I recognize this is not a film issue, but you may decide not carry every piece of hardware onboard.

Tony Karnezis
18-May-2005, 00:00
Hi Mike. I went to Greece in December through Frankfurt. I took my Kodak Master 8x10 and a buttload of film. On the outgoing trip, the Frankfurt airport simply did a swab and sent me on my merry way. On the return flight, they insisted on Xraying it. I brought my changing bag on Michael Smith's recommendation in case they would let me do a hand inspection. However, the airport was extremely busy, my brief layover didn't allow the time for the inspection, and they insisted on Xraying the film. I brought a box of ruined film as an example of what the rest of the boxes were like, but they didn't bite. Like others have said, it's a crap shoot. Happy travels!

tim atherton
19-May-2005, 22:43
Posted here, but continued in a seperate thread:

"I traveled to Greece last May with three other photographers and
all of our film was subjected to no less than 7 rounds of x-rays from
Detroit to Amsterdam to Athens to Santorini and back.

--Robert A. Zeichner

"Hi Mike. I went to Greece in December through Frankfurt. I took my Kodak
Master 8x10 and a buttload of film.

--Tony Karnezis"

How was the experience of spending time photographing in Greece?

Michael Kadillak
1-Jun-2005, 07:35
Arrived in Germany a couple of days ago. Surprisingly, not one screener asked me to take my two boxes of 4x5 sheet film out of the large Domke lead shield X Ray bag I had sideways in my back pack and I sailed through numerous security screenings without a hitch. One screen in Denver and two screenings in London.

Surprisingly, the only difficulty I had with checking into our British Airways flight was with the weight of the carry ons which blew me away. I was always of the opinion that as long as the dimensions were sufficient to meet carry on specs that the weight was not an issue. I was told that it could not exceed 6 #. Hell, my Linhof Master is nearly 6# all by itself as is many portable computers. When I add the film holders, lenses and other items I felt that 14# was pretty reasonable. I had to re-distribute some of the items to my kids backpacks to get checked in. I do not know if this is a new policy of all airlines, but I will tell you that I had plenty of space in overhead compartments to stow my pack even with a full flight on a 777.

Off to photograph. Germany is marvelous and the dark beer is fabulous.


Michael Gordon
1-Jun-2005, 18:29
I just returned from Scotland and was refused a handcheck of my film in Glasgow. Immediately after clearing the walk through scanner - and while waiting for others I was traveling with - I watched the "security" official assigned to the monitor on the next aisle over blatantly people-watching instead of paying attention to the what was before him on the screen. In the 60 seconds or so that I watched him, a number of bags passed by the screen that were unseen by him.

I tell you, no matter the geography, airport security is as bogus as ever.