At ZSL London Zoo, London

As I’m writing this, in the UK we have just entered our third official lockdown, so I thought I would write about a visit I made to ZSL London Zoo early last year, just before our first lockdown.

ZSL London Zoo is located on the edge of Regent’s Park, which while in central London, isn’t very close to any tube stations, which I think is why it isn’t as popular as it could be. It manage to be small and sprawling, with a mixture of large and small enclosures spread across the site.

For this visit, I took my Nikon S2 and an Olympus Mju II (both film cameras)- for this post, I thought I would write a little about the Mju II and share a few observations about it. First of all, as you can see, the weather was rather overcast, so both cameras were loaded with Kodak Ultramax, which is a 400 ISO colour negative film.

Penguin Pool, ZSL London Zoo, February 2020

At the Penguin Pool

I used the Mju II to take some photos of the Penguin Pool, because it has a 35mm F2.8, which was wide enough to capture some of the interior – the 50mm lens on the Nikon would only allow me to take pictures of details.

The Penguin Pool might be the most important surviving Modernist building in the UK. I enjoyed looking around it – it is wonderful collection of sweeping curves constructed from reinforced concrete. I wonder if they ever filmed “Poirot” there? There is very little Modernist architecture in the UK, I suspect because flat roofs and the fairly primative concrete technology of the time made for unsatisfactory buildings. It was designed by Tecton, an architectural practice which comprised many of the leading Modernist architects working in the UK (noteably Bertold Lubetkin and Denys Lansdun). It opened in 1934.

In this case, in 2004, the zoo decided that although it looked great, the enclosure wasn’t a very natural environment, so they moved the penguins to the “Penguin Beach” enclosure. Looking at the space (photographs of when it was in use), I can see that it was fabulous for displaying the penguins – shuffling up the helical ramps and hopping up and down the steps – it made for a very hard environment to live in.

Penguin Pool, ZSL London Zool, February 2020

This is a humbolt penguin in their “newer” residence.

Humboldt Penguin, ZSL London Zoo, February 2020

Looking at these photos, can I say any more about the Mju II?

Well, I think the lens is quite good – all the photos are sharp to the corners. In the penguin photo, I can see that the corners are a little darker than the centre of the frame, so I think close to wide open, it vignettes a bit. I tried to focus on the penguin’s head, but missed and got its neck instead. Or perhaps I was just too close to the subject – I remember holding my hand over the glass.

I liked the size of the camera. Lots of cameras are “almost” pocketable, but with its lozenge shape, it easily slipped in and out of my pocket all day. After staring at the back of so many digital cameras, I was pleased this one had a viewfinder to look through – I wished it was a bit bigger though. And the exposures seem – spot on.

Asiatic Lion, London Zoo

Asiatic Lion, London Zoo, February 2020

I think I have written before about my ambivalence towards zoos. And yet, I always seem to seek them out (the same with aquariums).

The weather was grey and wet as I made my way across Regent’s Park and went to ZSL London Zoo. It is rather expensive to go in (£30 for adults), but since I hadn’t been there in 15 years or so (and that was with a school party) I paid up and went in. In their defence I can’t begin to imagine how expensive it must be to run.

I expect I will update this post when I have processed my films, because there were quite a few charismatic animals, but I found this Asiatic lion having a rest in the shelter. I must say compared to the lionesses, he really did seem to mastered the whole “taking it easy” rather well. No worry lines on his face. If you are wondering, his name is Bhanu.