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New airport scanners threaten film

Australian airports are trialling new Computed Tomography (CT) scanners at carry-on baggage security checkpoints, which Kodak Alaris warns will damage undeveloped film.

A photo from Adelaide Airport in April 2019, to showcase the trial of new CT scanners. Source: Adelaide Airport/Twitter.

Melbourne Airport was the first to go live with CT scanners at Terminal 4 (domestic) in October 2019, with four new security lanes, and seven more scanners flagged for Terminal 2 before 2020. Last year Adelaide Airport, Sydney Airport, and Gold Coast Airport also began trials, while Alice Springs Airport and Darwin International will introduce the CT scanners this year.

The state-of-the-art CT scanners produce a high-res 3D image, rather than a flat X-ray scan, and at Melbourne Airport security screening time has been reduced by 50 percent. The scanners, supplied by London-based security company Smiths Detection, provide a more accurate analysis of a bag’s contents and don’t require passengers to remove laptops and liquids. They’re cited as having a low false alarm rate, and high level of automatic threat detection.

‘CT scanning allows operators to quickly and accurately ascertain the contents of a bag without needing to physically open it,’ said Matt Duffy, general manager operations at Sydney Airport. ‘That means faster and more efficient processing and, in turn, a more seamless airport experience for our passengers.’

The x-ray machines in use at most airport carry-on security checkpoints generally don’t noticeably damage film, as they deploy low levels of x-radiation. CT scanning technology has been used for checked luggage for many years, Kodak says, and the advice has been to always take unprocessed film in carry-on luggage.

With the new Smiths Detection scanners being rolled out across 145 US airports, at both checked and carry-on security checkpoints, Kodak ran a test with assistance from the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

‘To better assess the risk to film from the new carry on scanners we brought a small quantity of Portra 400/135 to John F Kennedy Airport in NYC,’ Kodak Professional said in a Facebook post. ‘With the help of TSA representatives the film was put through the new carry on CT scanners from 1-10 times. The film was then evaluated at Eastman Kodak Research facilities. The initial results are not good. Just 1 scan shows significant film fogging, leading to smoky blacks and loss of shadow detail. This will be more significant for higher speed films. Although it’s possible that a roll of 100 speed film would show less degradation, we strongly recommend against putting any unexposed or exposed but unprocessed film through a CT Scanner. ‘

The TSA told Kodak its security screeners are trained to hand-check roll and movie film, as well as single-use cameras.

‘Most x-ray machines used to screen carry-on bags should not damage undeveloped film under ASA\ISO 800,’ a TSA spokesperson said to Kodak. ‘There are a limited number of screening checkpoints that use x-ray equipment that may damage undeveloped film. These airports will have signage in front of the x-ray stating that the x-ray may damage undeveloped film.’

In the US, film photographers are advised to pack film in a clear plastic bag and asked for a hand inspection.

Inside Imaging has asked the Department of Home Affairs what photographers should do at Australian airports to ensure film is not damaged by CT scanners. We are expecting a response shortly, and will update the article accordingly.


  1. Cufflinks Cufflinks March 13, 2021

    Damaged film is a real concern from these body scanners. Thanks for an informative article.

  2. Peter van Orsouw Peter van Orsouw May 3, 2021

    I’m a concerned FILM Photographer and at times travel by plane. I would definitely want my FILM hand checked at the check in at airports. But when I ask for my film to be hand checked the attendees say the ct scanners are safe. And won’t do a hand check. This culture needs to change as we film photographers are not a threat and a hand check of film proves it.

  3. Nick Nick February 5, 2022

    Just checked in at Melbourne T4, the operator told me that the new machines are film safe.

    I politely but firmly asked for a manual inspection. “It’s not policy but I’ll do it this time” was the response

  4. Josh Payne Josh Payne April 20, 2023

    The Melbourne staff are a special kind of stupid. They forced me to XRAY iso 3200 PMAX today. Thankfully, it was the old style planar scanner from T1 but the film is pretty much cooked.

    Perth staff are super well trained in comparison. They meticulously follow the guidelines and will hand check all film on request.

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