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The films referenced here have been developed, and results have come back. Click Here to View the Answer

After a recent trip abroad, I picked up a number of rolls of film pretty cheap - Fujicolor C200, and Kodak ColorPlus 200.

As I'm pretty new to photography in general, I made the frankly idiotic mistake of putting all my film in my checked baggage rather than in hand baggage.

I've seen a great many images of photos affected by the hefty xray dosage that baggage scanners emit, and on the face of it, it seems like I'm best off simply throwing the lot away and cutting my losses rather than sending them for process and printing.

After reading up as much as I can, all I keep coming back to are grave warnings about how it should not be done, and lots of anecdotal evidence that the hand scanners don't damage film.

What I cannot find is much anecdotal evidence of people who have left films in checked baggage themselves, with either good or bad outcome. The images of damaged film are all examples of what can happen when the film is exposed to x-rays, but they don't come with any context so I don't know if they were set up for the purpose of demonstration, or just accidentally ruined films chosen as they illustrate the point effectively.

The film I left in baggage was a mixture of exposed and unexposed (including two exposeds roll of Bergger Pancro 400 which I'm pretty gutted about losing). Some rolls of Fujicolor are exposed, but none of the Kodak.

What I'm hoping to find out is whether anybody can share their own experiences - good or bad - of leaving rolls of film in checked luggage. Based on other accounts, I can take a view on whether to bother having them developed or not.

Since getting back, I have shot 2 rolls of FujiColor and one roll of Kodak which were carried in the hold.

I realise the only way to know for certain is to have them developed, but considering that all my current film stock has been carried in the same bag, I'm hoping to glean a little insight into whether I've ruined the lot.

The airport we flew from is Split in Croatia. It's a pretty small airport, which is undergoing modernisation at the moment, and Croatia has only recently joined the EU, which may have an effect on the security measures in place at the airport, though whether this is the case and what effect this could be I have no idea.

Any insight would be very welcome and appreciated.

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    I've always transported my film in hand luggage, so I can't help with the anecdotal evidence, but I would say it wouldn't break the bank to have a roll or two processed to see how affected your film is. Also, I wouldn't use any more of the unexposed film before determining if it is usable or not. – osullic Sep 25 '17 at 15:17
  • Also, you may be able to recoup at least some of the cost. People buy all sorts of strange things on eBay... – osullic Sep 25 '17 at 15:19
  • @osullic I think this is all I can do. I'll just have to refrain from printing until I know how bad the damage is. I suspect that if the films were scanned, they are likely to be ruined, but they may not have been through the scanner. I susppose my main curiosity is how likely is it that any given bag in a load of bags is to be scanned through the high intensity scanner, and how likely will packing other items around the films protect them from the radiation – Alex Sep 25 '17 at 15:34
  • The scanners are getting more sensitive all the time. Less radiation is used now than was used a few years ago. Everything depends. A clip-test (short section of a roll) can be processed to see if the fog level is even noticeable. If you got a good deal, experiment with a roll or two. – Stan Sep 26 '17 at 2:33
  • It was good to update with the developed film results.But that part should be an answer. As it is now we read the result before the actual question. – Grebu Oct 23 '17 at 20:44
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it seems like I'm best off simply throwing the lot away

I don't think anyone here could tell you whether your film is fine, slightly damaged, heavily damaged, or completely ruined. It really just depends on what dose of radiation your film happened to get. It might've gotten a huge blast from an ancient machine, or a fairly small dose from a modern machine, or perhaps none at all if your bag slipped though a crack in their security system. And considering that this is film that you bought on the cheap in a foreign country, who knows what state it was in even before it was scanned?

Your best bet is to send just one or two rolls out for processing and see what comes back. You might find that they're fine, or that they're ruined, or maybe that they're slightly fogged but worth rescuing with some digital processing. Whatever the result, you can use that information in deciding whether to process the rest or toss it.

  • This is pretty much the conclusion I've come to. I suppose my main gripe is that through lack of planning, I have potentially lost some good photos from my honeymoon in a way which was totally prevantable with a little forethought. If there were enough people saying that they had no issues, I'd be more at ease, but it seems like most people did their research beforehand and didn't check their films in the hold baggage. – Alex Sep 25 '17 at 15:42
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    You can't know that they're lost until you process the film and look at the images. On the other hand, they're definitely lost if you just discard the film. Photos don't have to be perfect to be meaningful, and the cost of processing seems like a small price for potentially getting some or all of your photos. – Caleb Sep 25 '17 at 15:45
  • Most people don't have these issues anymore because most people don't shoot on film anymore. Digital photography is much safer in this regard, and also much cheaper overall. Back when people were shooting on film, there was a lot of awareness of airport x-ray machines, and people often used lead-lined pouches and such to protect their film. – Caleb Sep 25 '17 at 15:47
  • The irony is, I put my digital camera in my hand luggage as it has a high energy density lipo battery in it. Digital is in many ways much less hassle, safer, easier and cheaper, but I love my mechanical SLR as a beautiful piece of engineering, whereas the digital camera is just a computer in a box. I'm a programmer by trade, and just don't have any affinity with computers anymore. It's just another tool to me, whereas the film camera is a creative outlet. Slightly skewed perspective, but oh well. – Alex Sep 25 '17 at 15:54
  • "Back when people were shooting on film..." On a point of order, people are still shooting on film! – osullic Sep 25 '17 at 16:06
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The Results from the X-Ray Irradiated Film

Having bitten the bullet and just sent the films off for processing, here are the results. Overall, these are pleasing, and although there is damage to the film, the shots are perfectly usable for my own purposes.

Hopefully, this will prove useful to anybody who has accidentally packed film into their hold luggage and who is debating whether to use the film or not.

Some sample images are included at the end of this answer.

Possible Course Of Action

It was suggested that I send one roll for developing to see how the results came out before deciding whether to process the rest, however as the films were packed among clothing, it was not certain that they would all have been irradiated equally. For this reason, I elected to send them all for processing (minus the one exposed FujiColor C200 roll), and rather than printing them, a friend scanned the negatives for me.

Extent Of Damage

The damage to the film varied significantly across all the rolls, with the ISO 400 films being the most affected by the radiation.

The black and white Bergger film shows fogging and very noticable graininess which is more obvious than an underexposed shot on the same film, however in spite of this the film itself was still usable.

The Kodak colour film shows lesser damage, however there is notable colour fading on some of the exposures, with some shots appearing washed out.

  • 2 rolls of Bergger Pancro 400 - These were taken with me, so were irradiated by the hold luggage x-ray scanner twice. One of the rolls was shot while abroad, and the other was brought back unused, then shot in the uk. Although all the shots from both rolls show evidence of damage, the amount varies and seems to be more significant nearer the start of the roll than the end. The first two example images were near the start, with the image of the traction engine being one of the last I shot on that roll. In this case, (to my mind at least) the damage adds an appealing quality to the images, however this is entirely subjective and for anybody who needs absolute clarity and accuracy in their shots, an x-ray irradiated roll may be less desirable.

  • 3 rolls of Kodacolor 200 - The damage on these rolls is less apparent, in part due to the reduced sensitivity of ISO 200, and in part due to the rolls only going through the baggage scanners the once as they were bought while away. The graininess is less apparent than with the Bergger rolls, although the colours do seem slightly more varied in intensity with some patchiness on those shots exposed for a shorter time. Again, while this appeals to me personally, the inconsistency could prove an issue if accurate colour depiction is needed.

The Moral...

First, and most obvious, try to remember that if you're going to take film on a flight, pack it in your hand luggage.

If you do forget, chances are it will be ok unless you're using very high ISO film, though if that is the case, you probably are aware of the X-Ray issue and will work around it accordingly.

If you are using 200 or 400 ISO film, one trip through a baggage scanner will probably do some damage, but it's likely not going to be a major problem, and in some cases it could even be more visually appealing.

At the very least, I would recommend that if the film has been irradiated, it would be better suited to personal projects rather than work for a client.

The Images

Bergger Pancro 400 - exposed to baggage scanner x-ray twice before being shot, causing varying amounts of damage

Llanberris Slate Quarry spoil heap Llanberris Slate Quarry Anglsey miners barracks Foster agricultural traction engine

Kodak ColorPlus 200 - exposed to baggage scanner x-ray once before being shot, showing less damage than the 400 ISO film

LLanberris - viewed from the top of the quarry Llanberris Slate Quarry - the various levels of workings

  • Can you highlight what you are seeing as Xray induced artifacts? – DarcyThomas Feb 9 at 8:35
  • @DarcyThomas On the black and white shots, the pale banding on the left side of the frame is down to the xray scanner, while the pale banding on the right edge is down to a perished light seal on the camera. There are shots on the roll which were more obviously affected (I'm not sure why I didn't post those, it would have made more sense). Overall, it's not too bad though. – Alex Feb 9 at 18:20
  • If it is not too much trouble could you put up a 'contact print' of the whole roll. I am interested to see how it affected the rolled up film (I used to be a radiographer, so have a bit of experience with x-ray artifacts on flat film) – DarcyThomas Feb 9 at 21:27
  • I will have difficulty doing a contact sheet as my scanner is a single frame negative scanner so they would have to be taken individually, however I’d be happy to post some more scans once I get chance to rescan them. My older scanner doesn’t work incredibly, but it would be interesting to get some more feedback on it, if nothing else just to understand it better. – Alex Feb 10 at 22:14
  • Perhaps just the frame left and right of your 'one tree on a hill' shot. Alternatively if you placed one of the cut pieces of film on to a sheet of paper and hold that up to a window/light and take a photo with your phone. – DarcyThomas Feb 11 at 4:34
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I would not go as far as throwing all the film in trash. Most film - perhaps excepting ultra sensitive ones like Ilford 3200 - can withstand some abuse.

I have had film pass through X-ray control and not only survive, but thrive. It is not something to do on purpose, but done is done and you can be certain you are not the first person to have a roll of film run through an airport scan. Unless you do it repeatedly there should be very little damage.

There is only one way to make sure: do a test development & test print and see for yourself.

  • I figured I would just bite the bullet and send it all off for processing. It's about £3 per roll, and a friend has agreed to scan the negatives for me, in exchange for me sending of a few rolls of his own film. The lab actually contacted me this morning to say they arrived, so I shall know in a few days. I'm quite excited now... could be some rather curious visual effects, and at the very least it gives me some useful data for an article. – Alex Oct 5 '17 at 12:21
  • Good luck to you; it is never certain but it should be all right :) – Jindra Lacko Oct 5 '17 at 12:54
  • Thank you. I'll add a follow up on my post once I have the results. Should have the negatives back tomorrow so soon we shall know. – Alex Oct 5 '17 at 15:48

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