Are X-Ray Machines Really “Film Safe”

Quick Answer: “Film Safe” is a lie!

film safe x-ray machine damaged photoHere is the perfect example to explain a photographic tip that will hopefully save many of you from the five years of torturous distortion I had to endure with my own photographs.

You will need to imagine the inside of your camera as you load your film for this. The particular section of film (Kodak 35mm EliteChrome 100) shown at left, was half way out of the metal film container after finishing a previous shoot, but itself was still an unexposed (no picture taken) section of film when I passed it through a “Film Safe” x-ray machine. In other words, it does not matter whether you have taken a photograph with your film yet or not:

“Film Safe” x-ray machines will alter your film.

I had an apt security guard in the DFW airport explain to me that all undeveloped film will be affected by x-ray machines. Understandably, lower ISO (the most common film speeds are 100, 200, 400) film will be more affected, but he explained that it is a good idea to keep any film below 400 ISO out of x-ray machines.

Before I bought my digital camera, I only shot slide film (positives), which is rarely over an ISO of 100. So, if you are using a film camera, please take care to never allow any undeveloped film to pass through an x-ray machine…that is, unless you are going for that faded, blue/green look for some artistic purpose.

Commercially available lead bags will protect film through these machines, and if you use a film camera and need to travel where such machines are used, I would highly advise using a lead bag.

For more information, I suggest the information on the affect of x-rays on film.

This article originally appeared on my website about three years ago. It is obviously specifically meant for film cameras, not digital cameras. I have run my digital camera memory cards through Xray machines many times with no affect on the photo files on the card. If you have a digital camera, you can relax now. This may be a bygone fear for some of you, but some people still prefer a film camera and this is a very practical help.

Indeed when wrote this entry, I had just switched from my very cheap Vivitar, all-manual 35mm camera, which (when not affected by scanning machines) took technically higher quality photos than my Nikon digital. And right now, that Vivitar is serving as a training camera for a budding young photographer. We do not need $1000+ cameras to take good photos. My $200 manual camera served me well.

Cooper Strange Written by: