Damian here! I’m writing this piece to reflect on some of the important aspects when carrying film overseas, especially encountering the pesky X-ray scanners at the airport! Although Damianwithsandra does not really feature 35mm film photography, recent personal experiences have taught us some important lessons about carrying film overseas.
So recently I travelled overseas to Japan, and was excited to use the Pentax MX camera for the journey. I also brought the SLR 680SE to take the new Polaroid 600 film, and those photos turned out a treat (see the end of this entry for the scanned Polaroids). I had done some rudimentary research on carrying film through the airport X-ray scanners, and quickly picked up some important tips (source here):
a) Don’t check in any film (whether analog or instant) with your luggage as the X-ray scanners used for check-in luggage are stronger;
b) At the customs check (for carry-on luggage), request for a physical check of any film (where possible); and
c) The higher the film speed (for analog film in general), the more likely the X-ray is going to adversely affect the film .
However, I have to admit I was a little over-optimistic, especially when reading subsequent comments made online by people claiming to have their film virtually unaffected by carry-on X-ray scanners. As a result, I ended up bringing a couple of expired Fujifilm 800 Superia X-TRA film.
At the Singapore customs, I boldly requested for a physical hand-check of the film I had brought (the Fujfilm 35mm film and the Polaroid film), which was granted without much fuss. However, at the layover in Hong Kong, the customs queue was long, and I suddenly felt uncomfortable with asking the busy customs officer to hand-check my film. I’d remember thinking, “If people online claimed they had no problem with letting the film pass through the X-ray scanner, surely mine would not have a problem at all!”
As a result, I innocently let my film pass through the scanner, and (obviously unaware of any potential effects of doing so) happily snapped photographs throughout my trip. When I was clearing customs at Japan (to return to Singapore), I tried to get my film (having bought a bunch of ISO 800 and 1600 film) physically checked, the Japanese customs officer rebuffed me, pointing to a sign which claimed that only film with speeds above ISO 1600 would be physically checked, and that there would be minimal effects on the film. Again, not one to impose, I simply relented.
What was the net result? Well, this happened:
That’s right, most of my frames got completely wiped out by the combined radiation effect of the X-ray scanners. I was pretty shocked and disappointed when I saw the results; only a couple of frames were salvaged, and even then one could see the adverse effects of the X-ray scanner:
Admittedly, there could be other reasons which contributed to the outcome; the film was notably expired, which does increase the likelihood of adverse damage (compared to an unexpired film). It could also be the processing lab which I went to, but then again it would be unlikely as the film lab is quite reputable and any processing errors would not result in the selective outcome (see the photo of the film strips above).
As a result, I recommend the following course of actions:
- Try to use lower speed film (anything between 50-400 should be safe) for starters, which that even if you can’t get the film physically checked, the probability of the film being adversely damaged is lower.
- As much as possible, request for a physical check at the customs; this was possible in Singapore, but not a likely option in Japan. You may likely experience different policies or actions by customs officers around the world, so the safest bet is to use low-speed film.
- Never keep your film in luggage that is going to be checked-in; instead, place it in your carry-on baggage.
This experience had left a disappointing feeling in me for a long while, because I would recall all the shots I took with the Pentax MX, which I know now to be completely wiped out because of the radiation effect. How those photos would have turned out, I will never know. However, this have left me to relish the other photos I did take, which is the Polaroid 600 film!
Surprisingly, the radiation effect was not noticeable (if there were any effect at all), and the Polaroid photos will surely be treasured for quite a long time!
Let us know about your experience travelling with analog film! We would love to hear from our readers about their own experiences!
Till next time,