View Full Version : Questions on Transporting Film

29-May-2010, 07:23

Long time reader/lurker, first time poster.

I've recently made the jump into large format, with a Chamonix 45n-1. So far having a great time, and I'm quite happy with the initial results. So, I've decided to take the camera on an upcoming three week trip to Morocco and Scotland; I leave a week from today.

I've ordered a bunch of 4x5 film, mainly Velvia 100 and Fuji Acros 100. But, as you know, the Acros only comes in boxes of 10, making carrying 50 sheets quite bulky. Is there any harm in consolidating the film into one or two boxes?

I've searched for other postings on this issue but can't find any. Is there any damage to the film if I put, say, 40 sheets in a box that normally holds 10?

Also, any other tips on how you transport film would be appreciated. I do plan to hand carry my film (no checked baggage), I have a Harrison changing tent that will come on the trip, and I might ship two/three batches of exposed film back to the States for processing throughout the trip (more to lighten the load, since I'm also traveling with a 35mm M system and lots of 35mm film). I'm not yet into the N, N+1, N+1 method, so I don't need a filing system for the exposed film.

Thanks for the help.


J Ney
29-May-2010, 07:38
I think 40 per Acros box might be a bit much but I can't say from personal experience... and I'm assuming you don't have any extra 50-sheet kodak boxes laying around?

Just a heads up, though... if the factory seal is broken on the box, then the TSA is more likely to refuse a hand-check of the film. This happened to me recently traveling between LAX and IAD... I had no issues bringing sealed film going out, but they insisted on X-Raying or "quickly looking at the film" when I came back b/c the seal was broken. I did end up having it X-Rayed (including unexposed film) with no ill-effect (the film was Ilford FP4+).

As a side question to others that may know... if you ship items from foreign countries, would it be reasonable to expect that Customs may X-Ray your package before allowing it in? If so, they probably use a heavy duty scanner similar to those in checked baggage.

Rather than shipping back exposed film for development in the States... perhaps you could have it developed in-country.

Doremus Scudder
30-May-2010, 04:17
My experiences / advice about traveling with film:

First, don't open the boxes if you really want your film hand-inspected. It's unlikely you can get just a hand inspection without factory-sealed boxes. That said, unless you are traveling through 5 or more airports one way, you don't really have to worry about getting the film hand-inspected. I bring boxes of 400-speed film back to Europe with me, usually scanned three times along the way, with no problems ever. So, if space is really an issue, you could consolidate at bit. With opened boxes, you would have to put your film through the scanner. If I were carrying open boxes I would keep them inside my hand luggage and just let them go through the scanner without even asking for a hand inspection. The techs probably cannot see if the boxes are factory sealed from the scan and will just pass them through as film.

Plus, although you can get hand-inspections in the United States, don't count on it in other countries. Forget it in Heathrow or other UK airports. Frankfurt and Paris are impossible too in my experience. Just put it through the scanner.

Shipping unprocessed film back to the states seems risky to me. Fortunately for you, Europe is not a third-world continent. Have your color film processed in Europe and take it back with you in your carry-on bag (here's where your empty film boxes will come in handy). Sure, it will cost a bit more, maybe..., but it's a lot safer IMO.

For exposed B&W that you would process yourself... well, if you can process it before you fly back, then that would be best. Options in this direction would be to find a darkroom to use in one of your locations, or bring what you need to process in a dark(ened) hotel bathroom (I've processed film in hotel bathrooms around the world. All you need is trays/tanks and your favorite developer in your checked bags. The other stuff you can buy in Europe. If you use a common developer, you can get that here as well).

Another option is to carry the undeveloped film back with you, putting it through the scanner as above. If your film doesn't receive more than 5-6 scans total, it should be alright. It may even be fine with more scans than that.

As far as shipping exposed, undeveloped film back to the States, maybe someone with some experience doing that will chime in here with a shipper and method. I've never done it.

Hope this helps somewhat,

Doremus Scudder

Louie Powell
30-May-2010, 05:46
I strongly agree with Doremus that the dangers of scanning are overstated. Unless you are traveling in the 'back of beyond' areas of third-world countries, the carry-on scanners you encounter will not harm film if you can limit the number of passes to perhaps 5-6 trips through the machine.

In the US, TSA rules say that you can request hand inspection of large format film. That's fine, but I still would prefer to simply let the film go through the scanner. Most TSA scanners will have never seen LF film, so I don't want my film to the the stuff they learn on.

I have been taking my kit to California each year when we go out to visit our son. My camera, lenses, meter and holders go in a backpack, and my film is handcarried in a small briefcase-like bag (my 'personal item'). My practice is to package my unexposed film in a recycled 100-sheet box that is has a label in big red letters saying "FILM - OPEN ONLY IN TOTAL DARKNESS". I wrap a piece of blue painters tape (chosen because its removable) around the box so that an inspector would have to pause before opening the box. The film is also contained in the black plastic wrapper.

I also carry three empty boxes for exposed film. One is marked "N", one is "N-", and the other is "N+". In the N- and N+ boxes there are two wrappers. I stick one or two plastic "feet" on the bags to denote sheets that require one or two stop compensation in development. The N box has only one bag. Each box also has a big label that says "Exposed film - Open only in total darkness" in red letters, and I seal the boxes with painters tape for the trip home.

I also carry a changing bag in the briefcase - so I can change film in the hotel, and so there is a way the inspectors could open the film boxes if they feel they must.

Over the course of the last four years, I had one instance in which the inspectors wanted to do a wipe test of my film holders, and another when the inspector asked to open the packpack - but I think he really was just curious about the camera. They have never questioned or even taken a second look at the boxed film.

30-May-2010, 07:18
...I've searched for other postings on this issue but can't find any. Is there any damage to the film if I put, say, 40 sheets in a box that normally holds 10?...Jeff

I've successfully squeezed 20 sheets into a 10-sheet box to consolidate some favorite films in my freezer. But I've never tried 40. Probably not enough room in the box. But I left mine inside the inner sealed pouches just squeezing two pouches together without opening them.

If you wanted to get more in the box you could try taking them out of the pouches and stacking the film sheets together. The triple nested boxes are light-tight but you run more of a risk of scratching individual film sheets the more you handle them. If you decide to go this route then I would advise placing one of the inner cardboard sheets on each end of the stack and holding together with a rubber band. This will keep the sheets from sliding around one against the other.

Last but not least you run the risk of airport security ruining film. To date when I have asked for hand-inspection the inspectors have been satisfied to swipe the outer surface of sealed boxes. But if boxes are unsealed they may insist on opening them to swipe the inside. This of course would ruin all your film if you stacked them together with just the cardboard at each end.

Tough decision I guess. But these are the pros and cons I foresee. Best of luck. Bob G.

30-May-2010, 07:23
P.S. forgot to mention in my post above. Once the inner sealed pouches are opened the film is exposed to atmospheric moisture and you have to be very careful about wide temperature swings. Can't just throw the boxes back in the freezer any more without sealing them somehow from the outside. i.e., ziplock bags or something equivalent. BG

30-May-2010, 08:53
Thanks, all, for your input.

Sorry I wasn't more clear in my original post. By hand carry I mean I would carry the film into the cabin, vice putting it in checked luggage. Since the fastest film I'm traveling with is 400, and I only anticipate going though 5 airport security points, I don't anticipate the film being effected by airport x-ray machines.

I think I'll try to consolidate 20-30 sheets into one bag inside one box. That will greatly reduce the bulk.

Bob--thanks for the tip on using a rubber band to secure the sheets with cardboard at each end. I don't want to go through all this only to have severely scratched film afterwards.

I've pretty much decided against shipping the film back while still traveling. Instead, I might try to get some of it developed in Edinburgh while I'm there.

Thanks, again, for the advice.



30-May-2010, 09:58
Anyone have experience in sending ULF film overseas expedited priority mail via the post office?