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X-Ray Check-In Luggage Can Damage Film

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

I'll be going on an overseas trip this summer, and my brother insists that I buy a lead bag to protect my camera and film in the suitcase. Do you really think this is necessary? I've traveled with film before without any problems.


More than enough to worry about

Dear More than enough to worry about,

Actually, having a lead-lined bag will not protect film in checked-in luggage with the new scanners that are being placed at major airports in the U.S. Lead-lined pouches are a suspicious mass when scanned, and the CTX-5000 scanners have a laser-like intense X-ray beam that will produce a fogged line on unprocessed film.

Instead of packing your camera and film in a check-in suitcase, always have your camera and film in your carry-on luggage. Anything of value should not be packed for check-in due to possible theft or lost luggage.

Airport x-ray security screening devices for carry-on produce very low dosage, so you shouldn't worry about possible x-ray damage to film unless your film speed is ISO 1600 or higher or you have highly sensitive x-ray or scientific films. In addition, the Eastman-Kodak Company recommends hand inspection of film of any speed subjected to x-ray surveillance more than 5 times because the effect of x-ray screening is cumulative.

So, if you're traveling to several countries and going through many surveillance check points at various airports, then you should have film hand inspected. To pack your film, first discard the cardboard boxes and plastic canisters, and then put all the rolls of film into a clear plastic ziploc bag. If you want hand inspection of your film, you can easily hand the plastic bag to security and avoid having it go through the carry-on x-ray machine.

However, if you have a digital camera, then you do not need to worry about any of the above.

See for updated information.