View Full Version : Recent XRay Experience

Kirk Gittings
20-Apr-2007, 07:35
After thoroughly testing the xray machines at airports from Albuquerque to Chicago and Heathrow last year, I got burned on a recent trip to Chicago working on an upcoming exhibit. My 4x5 color neg and b&w readyload film was uniformly fogged adding .20 on average to the base density. This was true on both checked and hand carried baggage with some slight variations in the fog density. These were opened boxes that I had used a couple of days before the trip with no issues.

From my post shortly after my UK trip last year testing a similar methodology:

"In my trip to England this year I took, bought in london, and shipped Acros in every conceivable manner from Denver to Heathrow. The worst got xrayed both ways from and too England. I then shot duplicate negatives of numerous scenes and had Praus develope samples of each in the same batch, tube processed. Densitometer readings showed 0 difference between any of the film regardless of having no xray or double airport xray."

I guess I will have to go back to buying film on location and Fed Exing it back?

Brian C. Miller
20-Apr-2007, 08:18
Do you transport your film in the lead-lined bags? I've always wondered how good they are in actual use.

Bruce Watson
20-Apr-2007, 08:30
I gave up fighting the TSA years ago. Now I ship film outside the system both ways on those rare occasions when I'm forced to fly. Airline travel is so painful these days that I drive when I can.

I buy film from Badger Graphic Sales. I asked them which shippers they use to ship film and what kind of problems they got. They told me that they've had no problems from either UPS or FedEx. My experience supports theirs.

Overseas shipping? I'd call Robert White and ask them how they get film from Fuji and Kodak. If you can use the same shipper...

Brian Ellis
20-Apr-2007, 08:45
"My 4x5 color neg and b&w readyload film was uniformly fogged adding .20 on average to the base density. This was true on both checked and hand carried baggage with some slight variations in the fog density."

I thought that putting film in checked luggage has always been a known problem, at least I've read many many times that it shouldn't be done and I've never done it, so the fact that film in checked luggage was fogged is no surprise. But hand-carried b&w film is very surprising. I've hand-carried TMax 100 in Readyloads for about four years now through xray machines in quite a few different airports without a problem. I wonder if the Chicago xraymachine was perhaps malfunctioning or whether TSA has increased the dosage recently?

eric black
20-Apr-2007, 09:09
lead lined bags in hand carried baggage- havent had a problem yet domestic or international.

Padu Merloti
20-Apr-2007, 09:36
I recently travelled to NM to cover a concert. I carried my digital and my 35mm. If I'm carrying anything below ASA400, I don't care. This day I had a couple of superia 1600 that I asked the TSA officer to inspect manually. The guy did it with no complain.
On the way back, I forgot the film in my bag and it went through the xray machine...
Developed and no fogging at all...

Kirk Gittings
20-Apr-2007, 09:39
Some notes:
1) I have had very mixed results with asking for hand inspection.
2) I have not tested lead bags as I understood that they would simply crank up the power to see through them.

This is like playing Russian Roulette with your film. Regardless of the cause, the only really safe thing to do is ship it separately.

Michael Mutmansky
20-Apr-2007, 09:45
Kirk, is there any way this was heat fogging?

I have yet to see any damage to carry-on film in my travels, but of course, things could change at any moment. Accidentally checked film always comes back fogged in my experience, and normally to the point of almost complete image damage, as in, more than .2D and not normally in an even manner.


20-Apr-2007, 09:45

This has been happening routinely to my film - TriX320 but not Provia 400F. I am in the Midwest and have traveled through Des Moines, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Denver, Phoenix and Sarasota to name a few. On all of these trips the film was fogged. Most were unopened boxes.

I am going to try it again next week just for fun and for a test!! - Through Chicago to Pittsburgh and back.


Kirk Gittings
20-Apr-2007, 10:15
Michael, I sincerely doubt it. It has not been that hot here and I shot with it a couple of days earlier.

Based on the very varied experiences here. I think people need to be exceptionally careful.

David A. Goldfarb
20-Apr-2007, 10:41
I use the lead bags when I'm carrying 4x5" to reduce exposure. I always carry the film on the plane.

My understanding is that they cannot crank up the radiation on those machines (which would likely pose a hazard to the inspectors and passengers). They can increase the gain on the sensor, which does not increase X-ray exposure.

Michael Mutmansky
20-Apr-2007, 10:55

That's my understanding as well. It's a common misunderstanding of the technology that most people think that increasing the gain increases the exposure. In fact, it's also not the case that the exposure happens continuously. It takes a snapshot of the bag, so while they are looking at the image on the screen, the bag is not continuously getting more exposure.

Kirk, any chance you were flying during heavy solar flares or sunspot activity? It's my understanding that the exposure from those can equal the exposure from the machines (or worse) when the sun is acting up. The airlines are very careful to monitor the flight times of their crews to ensure they are not getting too much high altitude exposure.


Brian K
20-Apr-2007, 12:15
Kirk was the fog even? Getting .20 density of fog is not a good thing but if the fog is even and not streaky you can always print through the density. Granted it will lower contrast and increase grain.

Kirk Keyes
20-Apr-2007, 12:20
any chance you were flying during heavy solar flares or sunspot activity?

Check here http://www.sec.noaa.gov/alerts/alerts_timeline.html and around this website to find this info...

Michael Gordon
20-Apr-2007, 13:24
Kirk: I've had nothing but problems trying to get hand checks internationally (fortunately no fogged film), but never domestically. TSA is obligated to hand check "sheet, large format" by their own guidelines: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/editorial_1035.shtm I carry a copy of this and produce it if any TSA employee gives me lip. It's not a bad idea to also carry a tent if TSA insists on opening a box of film, but that hasn't been an issue for me. I have never had my sheet film x-rayed domestically and will not allow it. :D

Kirk Gittings
20-Apr-2007, 14:03
Brian, It was very even because I had a couple of blank sheets to look at (Duh!)

24-Apr-2007, 10:03
Some notes:
1) I have had very mixed results with asking for hand inspection.
2) I have not tested lead bags as I understood that they would simply crank up the power to see through them.

This is like playing Russian Roulette with your film. Regardless of the cause, the only really safe thing to do is ship it separately.

The TSA cannot "crank up the dosage". There is one setting only.

Paul Metcalf
24-Apr-2007, 16:39
Kirk, looks like your film wasn't the only thing fogged!! (sorry, couldn't resist).

Don't know how old this link is, but Kodak (they still make film??!!!!) warned of this.


Tim Trapp
25-Apr-2007, 05:23
So what does happen when they stop the belt and stare at the image on the monitor? I've always assumed this meant the article on the belt was being exposed to x-rays for the duration it was stopped. If this assumption is correct, why would the film not be fogged?

Paul Metcalf
25-Apr-2007, 09:59
No, airport x-ray machines are "scanning" in that they make one continuous pass. There is no "staring" or "dwelling" with this process. The stopped image is going through an intensification and conversion process (all digital now), which consumes computer processor resources so it takes time. To "see" x-rays requires a surface on the opposite side of the item being scanned that emits photons (e.g. phosphorescent screen). At hospitals and your dentist office these photons expose sheet film (very high silver density film, btw, to record this low energy event). Airport x-rays use CCDs like digital cameras to detect the photons from the phosphorescent screen that gets bombarded with x-rays. The false image is formed as some items (dense) block or reduce the amount of x-rays that are transmitted. The false image is converted to something that a non-image expert (aka TSA person) can look at and make a resonable intrepretation. The belt stops so that something doesn't pass through without getting an image made while the person looks at the current image. FYI, power levels are changeable, but not by airport personnel, only by authorized service people and it is done inside the machine. The reason that the belt backs up and then goes forward is that a new scan is being made, but this sometimes required with old technology. Doing that today with the newer/current machines is a waste of time for the operator, as the image won't change. If they need to rescan for a better "view" of something, they should pull the item and put it back on the belt in a different orientation. Some TSAer's get it, some don't. X-ray is "out of band" from visible portion of electromagnetic spectrum, but with sufficient energy levels, electrons can get released and a photon-like event occurs.

Anthony Lewis
28-Apr-2007, 04:20
I have had a lot of experience with airport xrays, and yes it is a misconception that they crank up the intensity. The image is xray once and digitally they will change the image in many ways to identify certain parts of the image. It is presented to the operator in variuous colours and densities, ie, a certain colour will represent an organic substance and so on. However sometimes there are certain parts of the image that are too dense for the operator to see into. In these cases they will re orientate the object and xray it again. Once it is at this stage you would have zero chance of talking the operator out of a second run. They have no choice but to identify what is in the dense area. From my experience seeing into a box of sheet film is exceptional easy - there would be no need to give film a second pass.

Sometimes the operators are under a lot of pressure and that is why they stare at the machines. Often a computer will place exposives, food, drugs within a bag - your bag, any bag. When the operator sees a suspicious object they have to hit a button on the machine. If it dissapears - then it is computer generated. If it stays there, then they have to check it out, search bags. If they do nothing, they get the sack - lots of pressure!

You must remember that Customs all over the world at every container terminal have huge buildings that will xray several 40ft containers while on the back of their semi trailers in one hit. The drivers are obviously removed from their trucks and put into a safe holding area. They see right into the machinery within the container. You would not want your film transported in one of these containers. Xraying a box of sheet film at the airport is very simple technolgy in comparison.

I have spent many hours looking at airport xray machines and when you see an operator taking a bit of time and staring at the screen, they are only trying to identify certain objects, in many cases simply fruit, lollies, looking into the inside of laptops, art works, when there is a density change on a supposed uniform article such as a wooden statue, or an article is just too dense, etc. Your box of film should be the least of their concerns.

From my experience all I can say what has has been stated many times already. Just keep the xrays to a minimum, post film if possible, but don't worry if it is xrayed a few times. Maybe it is a good idea to remove your film from your hand baggage so it is xrayed by itself. If the operator feels there is something in your hand baggage they need to xray from a different orientation, your box of film will not go through a second time. A box of film by itself would have to be one of the simplest articles for them to see into, so there should never be a need for them to xray it a second time.

Only a very small proportion of containers are xrayed and you would have to be very unluckly for your film to go through one of these. However if you do freight film, air freight should be safer to avoid these container xrays.

Donald Qualls
29-Apr-2007, 11:24
For whatever it's worth, I had to go to the local county courthouse recently, where they have a security setup similar to that at airports -- but don't have anything like as much experience handling cameras and film (and I didn't know or had forgotten the courthouse had a security setup, so had two cameras and three rolls of film with me). All my cameras went through the x-ray, as did the film (in 120 film cans).

The one roll I've processed so far, T400CN which was pushed to EI 800, shows no problems at all from the single pass through the x-ray (which is similar to an airport carry-on system, though they claimed it was "not as powerful as the ones at the airport"), though surely the metal camera bodies will have attenuated the exposure some -- I'll know more when the three rolls of ISO 400 film from my pockets have been exposed and processed. I'm inclined, however, to think that if well-expired film pushed to EI 800 didn't show fog, the rest will be fine after a single pass through the machine...

8-May-2007, 08:42
Wow, for me that is one worrying thing. I plan to fly from the uk to Denver and back next year, specifically for a large format photography trip. If there is any risk to unexposed or exposed readyloads, I would seriously consider staying in the uk!

How hard would it be to buy readyloads in Denver or even better Moab, where I want to be based, and how difficult and practicable is it to send them all back to the UK via Fedex?

Absolutely no point going if my films are going to be trashed. Oh, could take my pocket digital phone and use that..



Donald Qualls
8-May-2007, 19:47
Following up, I've now processed two of the other films that went through x-ray at the county courthouse. Nothing I can identify as x-ray damage on any of that ISO 400 film, and the roll that was pushed to EI 800 was also fine.

Butterfly, you shouldn't have any trouble getting Readyloads in a major city like Denver, or probably in Salt Lake City, but I wouldn't count on it in Moab. Sending them via FedEx is easy, find any Kinko's copy shop (Kinko's and FedEx merged last year) and pay your money (there might well be one of those even in Moab, and as I recall there are two or three in Salt Lake City).

al olson
10-May-2007, 06:11

The best resource for large and medium format films that I know of in Denver, and perhaps for the whole state of Colorado, is Denver Pro Photo. They are located at 235 South Cherokee St. They are easy to find. From downtown Denver, go south on Broadway until you reach Alameda Ave. Turn right on Alameda and then turn right two blocks later on Cherokee. Denver Pro Photo is in a large building on the left. Their phone no. is 303-698-1790.

The downtown Waxman's store (I think it is now Wolfe Camera) is asother possibility that comes to mind, but I have not been in there for a number of years. I would be surprised if you could find sheet films in any of their satellite stores, however, because they are mainly digital.

Camera Traders is another possibility. It is a very eclectic operation. However, has such an assortment of old and used equipment that it might be likely that they also carry sheet film. I have shopped there, but not for film so I can't tell you for sure. They are located near South Federal and West Hampden.

I hope that this helps you plan your trip.

27-Aug-2007, 19:05
will the film trigged the metal detector? if not, how about carry a box or two in your pocket.(ilford‘s bag is not sealed)

29-Aug-2007, 19:22
I fly in and out of Denver several times a year with film. On numerous occasions I have asked for hand checks. I've never had a problem or been refused. I used to mail film back and forth but the Denver airport TSA folks have been fine to deal with and I no longer bother. I just get hand checks.
Dave B.