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What about Film?

If you still have a film camera and don't want to go digital, I have a couple of recommendations for dealing with photography in Egypt: Remember that I'm not an expert -- just a casual travel photographer, so I'm open to all suggestions!

What Speed?
You will either need to have some way to shoot at two speeds or forget about pictures inside most of the tombs, temples, and pyramids. Flash is not allowed in most of the tombs and pyramids, so you simply can't get pictures inside without high speed film or a very steady hand. We usually ended up at a minimum of 800, usually higher than that -- sometimes 1600 in darker tombs. Outside, we cranked it down to 200 and still got some overexposed shots.

Quite a few people had the little diposable cameras outside, which seemed to work fine, but inside, most of them would be useless. A few ignored the "no flash" rules, but I can't suggest that at all -- flash damages the pigments in the tombs. You might read in a few guidebooks, or even be offered, to trade a little baksheesh (tips) for some flash pictures, but please don't. Make sure that you don't damage the images.

How much?
The rule of thumb that I've been given about film is this : figure out how many rolls you think you need, and double it. Some people will take ten or more 36 exposure rolls in a day, others may only take five or six pictures. Pad the estimate.

The way I look at it, in the grand scheme of things, film and developing are cheap. Take lots of pictures and you'll be guaranteed to get at least one good one.

For most travel, they recommend that you bring all the film you think you will need with you -- knowing that film may be more expensive or of questionable quality wherever you are traveling. In the UK, this is probably not true and both film and developing can be had reasonably. Bring enough rolls to get you through the first couple of days and then plan on buying stuff there. It saves having to haul tons of film through the airport.

What about Xrays?
Speaking of the airport, the gurus of say that the xrays for carry-on baggage will not fog normal film (up to 400), but may damage anything faster. Plus, exposure is cumulative. One pass through the machine may not harm them, but two or three doses might.

You can certainly ask for hand-inspection (I certainly will!) of your film. Take them out of the boxes and put them in clear plastic ziplock baggies to make this easier on everyone. DO NOT put film in your checked luggage -- the xrays used to scan this stuff can really mess up your film. I figure that a polite request to hand inspect (with the commentary that "I've waiting ten years for this trip and I really don't want anything to go wrong, please humor me.") will do the trick if the airport personnel insist that the xrays won't harm the film.

One thing that was mentioned several times as well was to register your camera (if new) with customs so you don't get hit for tariffs when you try to bring it back into the U.S. Mark thinks this is silly, but it only requires a form from Customs or a receipt. No biggie.

A note on Xray-ing in Egypt
Additionally, with all the x-raying and scanning that our camera endured during the trip, we never would have mde it with film. While is it theoretically possible to go through airport security and get your camera/film hand inspected, everywhere we went in Egypt had xray machines (even the hotels!) and we weren't sure taht we would have been able to ensure hand-inspection of the film each time. Just to get into the museum required two scanners. We would have been distracted once or twice and had our film run through one of the machines...and possibly lost/damaged one of the rolls. Luckly, digital is -- for our purposes -- better than film.

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© 2003 r. fingerson
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