Cameras- Beware the X-rays of New Zealand
UPDATE July 20, 2007
My film was NOT fogged by airport x-rays in New Zealand. The reversible "fogging" was the result of underfixing the negatives in my darkroom. Refixing in fresh solution cleared the negatives, no trace of fog.
If there is a lesson to be learned from my mistake it is that ISO 400 B&W film most likely won't be damaged by up to 8 passes through airport hand baggage scanners. Leave the lead bags at home, and carry more film. Or leave the film at home and go with digital.
I am going to add my small bit to the world's store of online data about airport x-ray scanners and their effect on photographic film. New Zealand is the subject of my most recent experiment, though I will refer back to past trips for additional data.
In March and early April of 2005 I traveled from LAX to several airports in New Zealand, carrying the largest carryon legal photo bag, a Tenba that I also packed with 15 rolls of Ilford Delta 400 120 B&W film and 12 rolls of Kodak ISO 400 color print film. I have traveled by air in western and eastern Europe and South America with these films, and with as many as 4-5 x-ray exposures noticed no fogging.
During a two week trip my film was scanned eight times, including an unexpected scan for organic contraband (fruit, vegetables, animal or plant matter) at immigration control in Auckland International. In mid-trip I called a Christchurch camera shop to inquire about lead protective bags. Not stocked, and I was told, useless in New Zealand's airports. The screeners remove film from the bags, refuse to hand inspect them, and run them through the scanner. Up to ten scans shouldn't be a problem, said the camera man. In hindsight I don't think I mentioned either film speed or type, and it turns out he was both right and wrong.
The 35 mm color film shows no visible signs of x-ray effects on either negatives or prints. The 120 B&W is another matter. I processed the film in my home darkroom, using well-tested chemistry and equipment. I mixed in some rolls I'd been holding, and none of those showed fog. The NZ rolls were not all fogged, but those that were had blotches and streaks of fog, most apparent in low density areas.
The proof sheets suggest that most of the negatives that were lightly fogged are printable, but I will update this post after I've printed a few with varying levels of fog. For future foreign travel with frequent and unpredictable x-ray exposures, I'll probably leave the medium format at home and carry 35mm in a lead bag, hoping for the best from carryon screeners.