Can airport x-ray machines damage a digital camera?


Note: please read the commenting section below this article to learn of actual experiences contrary to information provided by the U.S. Transport Security Administration.


Airport X-ray equipmentYou packed the most important things for your upcoming dream vacation: digital camera, extra batteries, battery charger and other equipment. Soon you’ll be facing the first of several airport security checks.

Are you ready?

Most agree that putting digital cameras and memory cards through airport x-ray machines does not cause any harm. There is some concern about metal-detectors, particularly hand-held wands used by airport personnel if you fail the detector test.

Magnetic devices

Digital media are affected by magnetic devices, not x-rays. Airports signs warn about x-ray damage to film – not digital equipment. Some believe you should avoid the powerful magnets in the drive motors of conveyor belts. They recommend placing your camera as far away from the beginning of belt as possible.

According to the U.S. Transport Security Administration:

“None of the screening equipment – neither the machines used for checked baggage nor those used for carry-on baggage – will affect digital camera images or film that has already been processed, slides, videos, photo compact discs or picture discs.”

” The screening equipment will not affect digital cameras and electronic image storage cards.”

For up-to-the-minute and additional information, including how to pack and how to get faster through airport lines, visit the TSA website: TSA Website

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15 Responses

  1. Jesse says:

    I have yet to go on my trip. 1st thing I did was clear my camera of any photos and video by uploading it to my computer and then making a back up. Now if anything happens, I didn’t lose those precious pics. 2nd thing I did to protect my digital camera was to research (why I am here). The solution for protecting any of your things is to be prepared. The last thing I will do is show up with enough time so I can focus on protecting my stuff as it is sent through the grinder.

  2. Gail Bjork says:

    Judy, I’m not sure what happened to your photos but my guess is that the problem may have more to do with the battery going dead while photos were being written to the card than damage from airport X-Ray machines. Try a photo recovery program such as the free ones listed here.

  3. Judy says:

    Just returned from trip to Cabo San Lucas with daughter and grandchildren. My battery did go dead on the trip but as it has in the past have not had problem retaining the photos. I have an Olympus digital camera that I love. However, all the photos are gone from the trip and they were very precious to me. Is there anything that can be done in the future to prevent loss of photos when going through the airport security?

  4. Gail Bjork says:

    Julie, it’s very difficult to determine what caused the screen to become broken. It may just be a coincidence or you may have inadvertently knocked it against luggage or something. If you put it on a tray, it may have been juggled around going through the screening process. My guess is that it’s a handling issue and not a direct cause of an x-ray machine. Call tech support for your camera and they may have some insights. If the future, you may want to request a hand inspection of your camera.

  5. Julie says:

    I have never had my pictures or camera destroyed going through the airport until last weekend. I took a picture on the way to the airport, and my camera was fine. When I tried to take a picture after going through security, I noticed the screen looked broken (as if I had dropped the camera, which I hadn’t). It will take picutres, but I can’t see them on the display screen anymore. So, it can happen, maybe it is just rare? This was once out of 30 trips through security. Still a bummer.

  6. chris barker says:

    I returned from a short trip to Australia and found that although the photos are intact, after passing through an x ray scanner, the pc no longer recognises the Kodak camera. Another writer on here reports the same I note.

  7. Gail Bjork says:

    Sorry to hear about the problem. Try uninstalling and reinstalling the camera driver, or updating it. If that doesn’t work, call tech support so make sure your camera is damaged.

  8. Win says:

    Since I returned from the USA my Sanyo Xacti camera is not recognised by either the Apple or PC computers. Still images and movie clips can be seen in the camera but not accepted by computers. I’ve tried a card reader but even it is not accepted. I’ve taken more photos using a fresh card but no luck there either. I think the camera may have been damaged by the machine.

  9. Scott says:

    I’ve travelled with several digital and film cameras, both in checked bags as well as carry-ons. I have never had any issues whatsoever. The only time I do anything out of the ordinary is ask to have undeveloped rolls of film hand-screened. But I try to have film processed while I’m on vacation now to cut down any such risk.

    But anyway, back to digital. I have brought two Nikon DSLR’s and countless point and shoots through on trips with me. Never so much as a single byte of damaged data that I have come across that is clearly due to any type of screening (x-ray, magnetic, or physical). I’m not saying that it CAN’T happen, just that it has never happened to me. But regardless, everyone should backup their stuff early and often. Even if you make it through the flight process without any problem, you never know when something can happen at any time on your vacation or at home!

  10. Wade Rose says:

    My wife and I went on a Carnival Cruise.  They told us we had to place the camera in the xray.  Every picture from the previous few days of vacation was destroyed.  These were precious pictures in Charleston SC on our second honeymoon.  We were so disappointed.  I don’t know why, but these machines will destroy your pictures.

  11. Gail Bjork says:

    Terri, I’m astounded to hear that. I’ve read a number of airline websites in other countries, and they indicated it is safe. Thank you for sharing this as it will be helpful to others and hopefully help them avoid a similar problem. I’m wondering if you’ve tried a photo recovery program to see if you can get back the missig photos.

  12. Terri Jordan says:

    NOT TRUE!!!  I just came back from a trip and took my brand new digital camera with me.  I didn’t take the camera out during the TSA screening process, as I had heard that it was perfectly safe.  B.S. – - much to my dismay several photos that were on the camera’s memory card vanished and unfortunately they were not backed up!  Poof – - they were gone suspiciously after they went through airport screening and I wasn’t “wanded” either, they had gone through on the conveyer belt and I didn’t put it on the belt at the head, like the article said.  SO, tough lesson learned, but next time I am taking it out and hand-passing through.  Hope this helps others!

  13. Gail Bjork says:

    It’s my understanding that a memory card has a static electricity conducting board to discharge static electricity to keep the circuit board and chip from being damaged by the static charge. Source>>

  14. If I am not mistaken, memory cards (and other flash memory devices) are not affected by magnetic fields.  Those devices are affected by static charge.  Am I correct?

  15. Patsy says:

    Thank you so much for posting this information, it has taken some of the strain of traveling off my mind.