The founder of Century Precision Optics, his career in Hollywood spanned five decades, resulting numerous optical devices that became standard equipment in film and television production.
A longtime ASC associate member, Steven Manios Sr., former owner and president of Century Precision Optics, known for his groundbreaking work in camera optics, died January 3, 2021 from complications of COVID-19. He was 82.
During a career in Hollywood spanning five decades, Manios developed numerous optical devices, including wide-angle and telephoto lenses, that became standard equipment in film and television production. He was awarded several U.S. patents and earned the patronage and friendship of many of the industry’s top cinematographers. His work in adapting the Canon 150-600 zoom lens to professional use brought Century Precision Optics a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1992. Manios was recognized with the Society of Camera Operators’ Distinguished Service Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.
Manios was born September 4, 1938 in Athens, Greece. His family survived Greece’s Great Famine of 1941-2, which took the lives of 300,000 people. At age 12, following his father’s illness, he left school and began working. At 19, he moved to Los Angeles where he became an apprentice to Chris Condon, a family friend and owner of Century Photo Supplies. He started out sleeping on a cot in the back of the machine shop, but went onto become a skilled optical craftsman and, in 1973, bought the company from Condon.
Over the next several decades, Manios developed the company, renamed Century Precision Optics, into a major supplier of specialty optical equipment. Its Tele-Athenar telephoto lenses were widely used in filming action sports and wildlife, including for the film Endless Summer and the television series Wild America and Hawaii Five-O. The company created a custom relay system used to shoot model sequences for the first Star Wars film. It also developed specialized lenses used by the U.S. military to test weapons systems and by auto manufacturers in crash tests. Other gear aided underwater photography and newsgathering.
Under Manios’ leadership, Century Precision Optics continued to develop innovative products into the 1990s. Manios sold the company to Tinsley Laboratories in 1993 and remained on its board of directors until 1998. Continuing to develop optical devices into the 2000s, Manios saw a need for a high-quality, wide-angle, short-zoom lens for Steadicam cinematography. Working with Angenieux, his design resulted in the Angenieux 15-40 T2.6 Optimo, the first in the company’s popular Optimo and DP series of zoom lenses.
Manios is survived by his daughters Athena and Dina, son Steven (also an ASC associate member), and seven grandchildren.