View Full Version : Do Airport X-Ray mess up Mini DV tapes?

Patrick Smith
December 14th, 2008, 10:51 AM
Hey guys-
Old member and photojournalist here. I've been out of the video world for the past couple years (used to be into it heavily owning GL-2's and working on DVDs)....

Anyways, I am looking into getting a small Canon HD mini dv for some world travels and wondering if airport x-ray machines will mess up unrecorded or recorded mini dv tapes?

If so, is there a way to protect them like the old school lead packs they made for 35mm film?

Thanks in advance,

Josh Laronge
December 14th, 2008, 10:55 AM

You will need to take your camcorder out of its bag for going through security but, the x-rays wont hurt it or the tapes.

Patrick Smith
December 14th, 2008, 11:27 AM

You will need to take your camcorder out of its bag for going through security but, the x-rays wont hurt it or the tapes.

Awesome. Yeah, I am used to taking out all of my cameras. But that's good to know it won't mess them up.

Now I need to find a decent Canon HD/small mini dv.

Greg Waite
December 16th, 2008, 04:55 AM
in australia we have had the odd incident of x-rays at airports damaging dv tapes, it comes down to the machine itself and power settings etc...
i never let my tapes go thru the x-ray - i have them all out so security can check them - usually have no problems.
just bit carefull.

Jeff Donald
December 23rd, 2008, 10:08 PM
Hum, x-rays move magnetic particles. I haven't heard of that before. If that's the case, how do people get x-rayed with metal in their bodies? Sounds like and urban myth to me.

Chris Soucy
December 23rd, 2008, 11:23 PM
..... from another Dunedin resident, tho' not the same Dunedin.

X - rays are ionizing radiation just like the stuff from nuclear reactions, and can, indeed, affect magnetically oriented particles, just like they can give you cancer if used in sufficient quantities.

This has given rise to no end of grief to studios/ distributors of mainstream film/ theatre digital releases, as the extremely high x - ray doses used at some of the US cargo flight hubs can, and has, seriously damaged digital content.

I should stress that most of this high dose x - ray stuff is conducted on cargo and not on hand/ hold luggage, so the average traveller should not be too troubled.

This does not mean that the average traveller should not take precautions however.

I would always carry sensitive magnetic material on my person or in my hand luggage rather than put it in the cargo hold, but, strangely enough, probably put my camera in the hold.

The reason?

The high energy particles that enter the Earths atmosphere from space are only terminated by the atmosphere. There have been many reported instances of sensitive electronics being zapped (dead pixels etc) by these particles during high altitude (40-50 K feet) flights.

These are the same heights an average long range trans continental flight uses.

If you want to keep your camera or other sensitive electronics safe and wrapped in foil (lead or otherwise), the hold is the best place to do it, and hope it's at the bottom of the pile.


Jeff Donald
December 24th, 2008, 05:43 AM
You made a big leap from x-rays in airports (the original posters question) to high energy particles the middle/upper atmosphere. Again, if these particles where everywhere why doesn't my laptop screen, with hundreds of hours of air travel, not have dead pixels? The reason is the aluminum skin of the aircraft is a substantial barrier, not a thin piece of foil.

Dave Allen
December 25th, 2008, 12:27 PM
I personally use a tin based foil to block electronic eavesdropping lasers from aliens from Area 51 who are poised to swoop down from unmarked black silent helicopters directed by George Bush and the vast right wing conspiracy to install the new world order created by the Illuminati and the tri-lateral commission which were funded by Reagans voodoo economics.

Right now King Arthur would be saying; "What an eccentric performance"

Jeff Donald
December 26th, 2008, 03:13 PM
I personally prefer incasing my cranium in Heavy Duty Reynolds Wrap. The voices seem much quieter.

John Miller
December 26th, 2008, 03:46 PM
You made a big leap from x-rays in airports (the original posters question) to high energy particles the middle/upper atmosphere. Again, if these particles where everywhere why doesn't my laptop screen, with hundreds of hours of air travel, not have dead pixels? The reason is the aluminum skin of the aircraft is a substantial barrier, not a thin piece of foil.

If you are crazy enough (like me) to dismantle a prosumer camcorder (a PDX-10), you will find copper plates about 1.5 mm thick behind each CCD sensor. These are to help protect the sensors from damage by cosmic rays etc. Honest.

Jeff Donald
December 27th, 2008, 12:58 PM
I'm pretty sure the copper shielding is to reduce RF and has little to do with high energy particles damaging the CCD. Can you link to any articles verifying your claim?

John Miller
December 27th, 2008, 01:48 PM
RF has the lowest energy of all electromagnetic radiation and is very unlikely to cause damage to electronics especially at the levels we are exposed to everyday from TV/radio/cell phone transmissions.

I can't recall where I learned about this - possibly when I saw the plates in the camcorder and looked it up. If you search Google for something along the lines of 'ccd radiation shield copper' (w/o the quotes), you'll get a large number of hits particularly concerned with the damaging effects of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation on CCDs deployed in spacecraft in low earth orbit, terrestrial telescopes and other critical applications. Even commercial flights expose CCDs to notably higher levels of gamma particles than at sea level. And below the sea is the best place to be in order to minimize the likelihood of damage to the CCD - while increasing the likelihood of flooding the camera(!)

Jeff Donald
December 27th, 2008, 03:10 PM
Open up almost any electronic device in a broadcast/production environment and you'll find shielding against RF. While RF rarely damages electronics it reeks havoc on audio/video signals. Your suggested search produces results for CCD cameras used in astro/physics research and radiation treatment rooms. The average consumer/prosumer/BQ camera is shield against interference from RF, not high energy particles in space or cancer treatment rooms. If you search "RF shielding consumer electronics" you find numerous articles on shielding in nearly all consumer electronics, from cell phones to children's toys.

John Miller
December 27th, 2008, 04:36 PM
I agree about RF shielding but to be functional it has to completely enclose the circuitry and be grounded (i.e., a Faraday cage). These are the typical boxes you see in modern electronic devices. The copper shields in my PDX-10 were neither grounded nor enveloping the sensors. Hence, they cannot be functioning as RF shields. Their thickness (~1.5 mm) also suggests a different function since even thin wire mesh can be used as a Faraday cage as long as the mesh size doesn't exceed the wavelength of the RF. Even consumer CCDs used within the earth's atmosphere are prone to damage from high energy particles but their incidence is less so the extent of shielding required is also less.

I'll take a peek inside my ancient el cheapo Handycam and see what it looks like since it is already in pieces.

Pete Bauer
December 27th, 2008, 04:37 PM
I'd like to add a small clarification regarding GCR (galactic cosmic radiation). GCR is composed of high-z relativistic particles (basically the nuclei of elements from hydrogen to lead) that are extremely penetrating. Metals, including an aircraft's aluminum alloy skin, are actually a poor way to shield against them as any of the few particles absorbed will result in secondary particles and Bremsstrahlung. Materials containing large amounts of hydrogen, like polyethylene, are preferred since that limits secondary particle formation/radiation. Except near the earth's magnetic poles, where these highly charged particles can follow the flux lines nearer the earth's surface, very little GCR reaches us at ground level.

So if you're taking a trans-polar airline flight (the only exposure any of us are likely to see slightly higher than ground-level GCR) and are determined to slightly reduce the chance of a bit or two getting dropped in one of your tapes, you might want to take a suitcase full of polyethylene blocks with your tapes in the middle. Otherwise, there's not much you can do about the small risk of an induced drop out...and you might want to weigh that against explaining your odd luggage to the Customs agents.

As far as xray machines, I doubt the ones our carry-ons go through are of any concern, but can't speak for the luggage situation so I'll take Chris S's word on that...I prefer not to check anything I can't bear to lose anyway!

Paul Mailath
December 27th, 2008, 08:14 PM
I recall a comment somewhere that it was the motorised belts that move the luggage and not the xray. older motors may have a larger magnetic field and that's the cause. I guess you could put each tape in condom and swallow - I'll take the chance of a dropout

Marco Leavitt
December 28th, 2008, 09:14 PM
The security personnel at airports insist emphatically that the equipment will not damage your camera or tapes, but frankly, I think they'd tell you anything to shut you up. This is something I'd probably not worry about too much unless it was really, really important footage, like a modern day Zapruder film or something.

Greg Boston
December 28th, 2008, 11:47 PM
I wouldn't recommend carrying your tapes on your person as you walk through the metal detectors. Those things are definitely producing a magnetic field to detect metal.


Jeff Donald
January 4th, 2009, 06:06 PM
While I still insist on wrapping my head in HD Reynolds wrap, this topic really doesn't answer the basic question. Urban legends go a long way with these topics. Zapruder films aside, the machines your carry on luggage go through are relatively low dosages and your tapes, films (800 ISO and lower), equipment etc are safe being exposed to them. Xray damage to high ISO film is fairly well documented. But damage to magnetic recording medium, LCD screens, CCD, CMOS sensors etc. is pretty far fetched. I challenge anyone to post a link to legitimate review that states X-rays damage the above medium or equipment.