This is what happened after a roll of film was X-rayed 19 times

Oct 3, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

This is what happened after a roll of film was X-rayed 19 times

Oct 3, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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There’s an ongoing debate about whether airport security X-ray scanners can actually harm your rolls of film. Some people believe it’s essential to hand-check film to prevent damage, while others are less concerned.

But what happens when you expose ISO 3200 film to 19 X-ray scans during travel? Does it get ruined? In this video, Bry Hong investigates just how damaged his film got after his extensive travels through multiple airports.

The Experiment

Bry had two rolls of ISO 3200 film, even though it wasn’t his favourite due to its graininess. With two big trips ahead involving ten flights through seven airports in five countries, he decided to put this film to the test.

What Happened to the Film?

After enduring 19 X-ray scans during his travels, the ISO 3200 film wasn’t completely destroyed. It showed only a bit of fogging and some streaks or light leaks. In simple terms, it was still usable.

This challenges the common belief that X-rays would completely ruin the film. While this experiment isn’t recommended for important projects, it demonstrates that 19 X-ray scans on ISO 3200 film during regular travel didn’t result in a total disaster.

Concerns About CT Scanners

There’s been talk about new CT scanners at airports, with claims that even one scan could destroy film. However, Bry didn’t encounter a CT scanner during his travels. He carried an extra roll of film to test the CT scanner’s impact while hand-checking the rest, but in the end, he never got to try it out. The jury then is still out on CT scanners.

Fear-Mongering

This experiment stemmed from frustration with the fear-mongering surrounding X-rays and the lack of solid evidence to support these claims. Despite extensive research and exposure to X-rays, Bry says he had never seen real X-ray damage from carry-on luggage scanners.

Altitude vs. X-Rays

Some people think that flying at high altitudes exposes film to more radiation than security X-rays. This idea could explain the extra fog observed in the ISO 3200 film, which travelled the equivalent of almost two round-the-world flights.

Practical Advice

Bry also travelled with ISO 400 film. After this, he stands by his previous advice: you don’t need to hand-check ISO 400 film through airport security. He successfully took ISO 400 film through multiple X-ray scans without any visible damage. The experiment also included other film types, like Fuji Superia X-TRA 400, Portra 160, and Ektachrome E100, which showed no signs of X-ray damage, even after multiple scans.

Travel with Film Without Worrying

In summary, this experiment shows that excessive fear of X-ray scanners and film is unfounded. While extensive X-ray exposure may cause some damage, it’s unlikely to completely ruin your film during typical travel. Bry encourages others not to worry when travelling with film and to follow the evidence instead of believing fears based on old wives’ tales.

So, load up your film, capture your travel adventures, and enjoy analogue photography without unnecessary concerns.

Have you ever had your film ruined by airport security X-rays?

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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9 responses to “This is what happened after a roll of film was X-rayed 19 times”

  1. Daniel Scott Avatar
    Daniel Scott

    Sue Lau

  2. Steve Tracy Snaps Avatar
    Steve Tracy Snaps

    I used lead bags

  3. Dominik Samol Avatar
    Dominik Samol

    Not every x-ray is created equal

    1. DIYPhotography Avatar
      DIYPhotography

      Dominik Samol true fact

  4. Johnny Martyr Avatar
    Johnny Martyr

    “Have you ever had your film ruined by airport security X-rays?”

    Yes – in just one pass in Iceland earlier this year, a roll of 400 Tri-X that I left in my camera was fogged with sine wave patterns. On the other hand, I’ve passed about 20 rolls of P3200 through Punta Cana without issue because hand checks were not permitted.

    It would be interesting if the author began advertising to their commercial clients that x-rayed film would be used for their projects as seems to be the recommendation here.

    What a dangerous and irresponsible message to spread. And to call it “fear mongering” or “excessive fear” when people take their photography (and client work) seriously by following manufacturers’ recommendations is hostile and inaccurate. This is like calling people who wore masks in public during the pandemic “scared.”

    I think the hobbyist photographer’s experiment is interesting and fun but the framing of the argument and conclusion here does not meet the standards of journalism or science without fact checking by qualified persons.

    1. bryan_hong Avatar
      bryan_hong

      Hi. I made this video. I literally say, multiple times in this video, that I do not recommend doing this with anything “mission critical.”

      Also in this video, I talk about how I got one roll of film processed locally in Singapore after 11 x-rays because I actually cared about the images on that roll and I wanted to avoid any further potential issues with x-rays.

      Never have I ever suggested in any of my videos that you should send your professional client work through x-rays. What I have suggested (in a past video) however is if your work is that critical, you should source your film locally, and get it processed locally to avoid the possibility of sending unprocessed film through x-rays as there is no guarantee you will be allowed to hand check your film.

      If for some reason people get the impression that I’m telling people to send professional work through x-ray scanners then either I am doing something very wrong or those people are not responding in good faith or simply didn’t watch the video.

      What I do explicitly say in this video is that people shouldn’t be afraid to travel with film. Because many people are scared. So many people are posting in forums freaking out because a security agent refused them a hand check, one time. To those people I say relax, it’s gonna be fine.

      1. Johnny Martyr Avatar
        Johnny Martyr

        Thank you for clarifying your position for everyone reading.

        The majority of my comments are directed at the author of this article.

        However, I don’t see any good reason not to take ones film photography as seriously as if it were being shot for paying clients. And therefore I don’t see much reason aside from raising technical questions and demonstrating for curiosity, that some films can make it through some x-ray scans at a particular time.

        I would find your videos about x-rays and film more effective, useful and less likely to be misunderstood/misconstrued, if you didn’t use phrases like “You Do Not Need To Hand Check Your Film Through Airport Security” as titles but emphasized for photographers to do their best not to get their film scanned but not to panic if it does.

        Admittedly I am one who misunderstood your messaging and I apologize for the confusion. If your intention is to encourage people to shoot film and share with them how to get great results, I’m fully on your side.

        I have a similar talking point; I discourage people from refrigerating their film. I think it’s useful to question popular opinion, but only when we make it clear that the popular opinion can actually be counterproductive. Happy shooting!

  5. Johnny Martyr Avatar
    Johnny Martyr

    “the fear-mongering surrounding X-rays and the lack of solid evidence to support these claims.”

    Sure, Kodak deliberately dissuades customers from using their products by putting out false studies and recommendations.

    “Despite extensive research”

    What research was that?

    “Bry says he had never seen real X-ray damage from carry-on luggage scanners.”

    This is a basic logic fallacy know. as Appeal to Ignorance. X hasn’t happened to me ergo, it must be impossible.

  6. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar
    Arthur_P_Dent

    I will continue to err on the side of caution if I’m carrying film. Since the airport scanners in the U.S. are operated by people who may or may not have graduated high school rather than someone with a degree in nuclear physics, any safety guarantees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    I also take offense at you calling us “scared” or that we are engaging in “fear mongering.”

    Your experiment does not prove it is perfectly safe. There’s still
    damage from the X-ray, and basic physics says there would be. And how
    would you define “mission critical?” Work for a client? Photos of an
    aged loved one who might die in the next week? Your newborn child?
    Scenes from a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Basically, almost every photo is
    “mission critical” to someone.

    There are also a few flaws in your “experiment.” Did you pack the film in the same place in the bag, with the exact same items around it each time? Did you eliminate the possibility that other items in the bag could have either blocked or diffused the X-rays that hit the film? And do you know if the machines were delivering a uniform level of radiation. Again, these people have less training to run X-rays than those who work in the medical field.

    A better experiment would be to put the film through the scanner by itself in one of those trays you usually put your pocket change. That way you eliminate quite a few variables. I would also go on eBay and get a portable dosimeter to put in a tray you send through either before or after the film to measure how much radiation it is being exposed to, eliminating another variable. For controls, I would have one roll of film only hand-inspected while leaving a third roll of film sitting at home that was only exposed to natural radiation (or better yet, keep that one in a lead-lined bag — such as the ones made specifically for travelers to protect their film from security X-rays) to eliminate that variable as well.