Disposable cameras are making a comeback, proving once more that what’s old is new again.
These compact, single-use, point-and-click cameras are a fun, old-school way to capture memories while on vacation.
Modern travelers unfamiliar with the days of film will get a kick out of seeing their favorite moments (and a few forgotten ones) once the photos are developed.
Disposable cameras have been around since the 1980s and are definitely still allowed on planes. It’s best to pack them in carry-on luggage as the x-rays used to scan checked bags can overexpose the film inside. When going through security with a disposable camera, you can also request a hand inspection to ensure the film isn’t damaged.
This article discusses flying with disposable cameras, how to pack them, and what happens to film when exposed to x-rays.
What Is a Disposable Camera?
Disposable cameras are small, handheld, single-use cameras that contain 35 mm film.
Depending on the model, they can take either 27 or 36 photos before they’re ‘full,’ and most come with a built-in flash.
The film inside these cameras can’t be replaced, which is why they’re disposable, but once they’re full, the photos can be printed.
Before film is developed into prints, it’s considered unprocessed or undeveloped and can be sensitive to environmental factors, such as light, moisture, or heat.
Can You Fly With a Disposable Camera?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows disposable cameras onboard aircraft.
Disposable cameras, used and unused, may be packed in carry-on and checked luggage; however, the TSA suggests bringing them in carry-on and that passengers request a hand inspection when going through security.
Ultimately, it’s up to the discretion of the security officer whether travelers can have their film inspected by hand or must send it through the x-ray.
Does Airport Screening Damage Film?
X-ray scanners at airports can damage unprocessed film by exposing it to light, causing fogging and banding on every picture developed.
Fogging gives photos a washed-out look, whereas banding is a dark streak running horizontally through all the photos on the roll.
Typically, undeveloped film will not be harmed when passing through x-rays in carry-on luggage as these machines are less powerful than checked bag scanners.
Can X-Rays Harm All Types of Film?
The general rule of thumb is film under 800 ISO should not be damaged by the x-rays at airport security, but film with a higher ISO should be inspected by hand.
ISO-800 film is right on the edge, so err on the side of caution and keep it out of the machines.
Disposable cameras, such as the Kodak Gold Fun Saver, commonly use either ISO-400 or ISO-800 film.
The film type will be listed on the camera’s packaging, making it easy to determine whether a hand inspection is necessary.
Instant film, like Polaroid (640 ISO) or Instax (800 ISO), can also be susceptible to x-rays.
Both instant films can pass through security normally, but they have a higher chance of damage than a low ISO disposable camera.
That said, some people like the fog effect on photos, so if you want to see what might happen, send the camera through!
Should You Pack a Disposable Camera in Checked Luggage?
While disposable cameras are fairly durable, it’s not advised to pack them in checked luggage.
The x-ray scanners used to screen checked bags are much stronger than those used for carry-on, and they can damage the film and ruin your photos.
Checked baggage also has the added risk of being lost, leaving travelers without their cameras at their destination or without their memories when they return home.
What’s the Best Way to Travel With a Disposable Camera?
As mentioned, put your disposable camera in your carry-on bag, and ask security to inspect it by hand so it doesn’t go through the x-ray machine.
Avoid putting it in checked luggage, and keep it away from anything that might leak.
If you’re worried about a damaged camera, buy one at your destination and have the film developed before heading home.
Local photo labs often have quick processing times, and you can have your prints in hand before the end of your trip.
Disposable cameras are allowed on flights in carry-on and checked luggage; however, the TSA recommends putting them in carry-on bags to avoid damage to the film.
The x-ray machines at the airport can damage unprocessed film, so it’s better to keep your disposable cameras with you and request a hand inspection when at the security checkpoint.
Most film under 800 ISO should be ok if it goes through an x-ray scanner, and disposable cameras are typically between 400 and 800 ISO.
That said, scanners for checked luggage are much more powerful than those used for carry-on, which increases the risk of overexposing the film.
If travelers are concerned about their photos, they can buy a disposable at their destination and/or have the film developed before heading home.