Sunday, April 07, 2002

Travelling Degrades your Static Memories

If an image is worth a thousand words, then certainly a degraded image loses some of its wordiness. An unfortunate side effect of intensified airport pre-boarding security checks since 2001.09.11 has been degraded photographs. Now that hand checking items has become a rarity, everything -- including precious moments captured on film -- must be sent through an x-ray scanner. Although photographic film is exposed with visible light photons, high energy x-ray photons can in most cases over-expose film, generating streaking artifacts, and cause a general increase in brightness and speckly noise in the resulting developed image.

So, what's a jet-setting photographer to do? Ideally, one should avoid airport security checkpoints altogether. Try travelling by car, bus, train, or boat whenever possible. If this is not feasible, and plane travel is inevitable, try to reduce the total number of x-ray checks your film passes through before it is developed: minimize the number of stopovers, try to insist on a manual check of film canisters, and purchase film at the destination. Kodak (see the Technical Information Bulletin on Baggage X-ray Scanning Effects on Film) claims that 5 x-ray security scans is the typical threshold 'dose' before significant image degradation occurs on low speed (up to 400) film; higher speed film is more sensitive to light, and thus more susceptible to x-ray damage. If image quality is paramount and money is no object, an elegant solution is to courier the film back home -- check with the courier company first in case they irradiate their packages!

Is all this too much of a hassle? I think so. Do you believe that impeccable fidelity of visual memories is a basic human right? I do.

I use a digital camera.

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