The attenuating properties of several types of lead (Pb)-based and non-Pb radiation shielding materials were studied and a correlation was made of radiation attenuation, materials properties, calculated spectra and ambient dose equivalent. Utilizing the well-characterized x-ray and gamma ray beams at the National Research Council of Canada, air kerma measurements were used to compare a variety of commercial and pre-commercial radiation shielding materials over mean energy ranges from 39 to 205 keV. The EGSnrc Monte Carlo user code cavity. cpp was extended to provide computed spectra for a variety of elements that have been used as a replacement for Pb in radiation shielding garments. Computed air kerma values were compared with experimental values and with the SRS-30 catalogue of diagnostic spectra available through the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine Report 78. In addition to garment materials, measurements also included pure Pb sheets, allowing direct comparisons to the common industry standards of 0.25 and 0.5 mm "lead equivalent." The parameter "lead equivalent" is misleading, since photon attenuation properties for all materials (including Pb) vary significantly over the energy spectrum, with the largest variations occurring in the diagnostic imaging range. Furthermore, air kerma measurements are typically made to determine attenuation properties without reference to the measures of biological damage such as ambient dose equivalent, which also vary significantly with air kerma over the diagnostic imaging energy range. A single material or combination cannot provide optimum shielding for all energy ranges. However, appropriate choice of materials for a particular energy range can offer significantly improved shielding per unit mass over traditional Pb-based materials.