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Although not many travelers use film cameras anymore, airport security screening devices will damage film carried in checked luggage.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends that you transport your film in a carry-on bag.  You may find that doing so offers little protection.

Read our recommendations covering various strategies for protecting you film (exposed or unexposed).


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Travel Tips - Airport screening and damage to photographic film

While a limited number of professional photographers still dabble in film, most casual travelers take vacation photos with their phones or a stand-alone camera and do not have to worry about negatives and camera film. A very small number of travelers still use film cameras, and this article is aimed at helping them.

You can avoid the problems noted in this article by purchasing a digital camera. If you prefer shooting your vacation photos with film, there are several precautions you should observe.

Airport security scanning devices and photographic film do not mix. The powerful scanning devices currently being used definitely damage film quality, resulting in film that has bands, blurs, and altered colors.

You should be concerned about the safety of all of your film, either exposed or unexposed. While some travelers place film in their luggage and think that it’s safe, never place undeveloped film in your checked baggage. Checked luggage is exposed to significantly higher levels of X-ray than carry-on baggage. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggests that you place your film in your carry-on baggage. Unfortunately, the TSA admits that the X-Ray machines used to scan carry-on baggage will damage film that is exposed to X-Ray inspections five or more times (something that is possible on a multi-leg trip).

Another important issue is that higher speed film (ASA) is more likely to be damaged by exposure to X-ray than slower film [ASA]. Film at 200 or lower ASA seems to withstand X-ray better than 400 or higher ASA. If your film preferences allow, try to use one of the slower [lower ASA] films.


Strategies for protecting your film

 1. Although it is an inconvenience, buy your film and process it during your travels, as  X-ray exposure does not damage developed film (or prints).

2. If your film is in danger of being scanned five times or more, you can request a hand inspection.

  • If you contemplate doing so, the TSA advises that you place the film in a clear plastic bag to speed the “hand inspection process”.
  • Note: it is unlikely that security personnel at foreign airports will honor your request for hand inspection.

3. If you are unwilling to buy and process film during your vacation, you can try to mitigate the X-ray problem by purchasing a lead shielded, film bag at your photo dealer.

  • These bags look like a polyester and lead foil version of a lunch bag (about 6" x 12") and can hold approximately 20 rolls of film.
  • The lead lined pouches provide some protection against low-level X-ray inspection units.
  • note: the only safe procedure with high dose X-ray units is visual inspection, which may or may not be allowed.
  • Use the film shield bags as documented by the manufacturer.
  • The use of these shield types of bags may cause further security checks if the materials appear suspicious to the personnel operating the security checkpoint.
    • In this case, all you can do is show them the film and hope that they do not want to send the film unshielded through the X-ray device.
  • Many photographers do not believe that the photo security pouches actually provide significant protection from X-Ray due to leaks in the seams or folds of the material.
    •  We use film-shielding bags to protect our film [both exposed and unexposed] during travel that involves air transportation.

The TSA does not recommend the use of lead lined, photo security pouches, since the bag will have to be hand inspected.


4. Passengers transporting specialty films of 800 ASA/ISO,  or higher  sheet film and professional grade film, should always ask for a hand inspection of the materials.

5. You might want to consider taking a digital camera with you on the trip as digital picture storage media are not damaged by X-ray.

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