Steven Manios Sr., industry legend, optical wizard and former owner and president of Century Precision Optics, passed away on January 3, 2021 from complications of COVID-19.
Steve’s fifty-year career in Hollywood was the stuff of legends. He was part of an esteemed group referred to as Hollywood Royalty. Steve innovated and developed many lenses and optical devices. Among these were wide-angle lenses and adapters, swing-tilt and telephoto lenses, extenders, macro attachments and more. Most of these became essential ingredients of camera and lens packages on film and TV productions.
Steve was awarded several U.S. patents. He earned the respect and friendship of many top cinematographers and rental houses. His work in adapting the Canon 150-600 still photography zoom lens for cinema applications resulted in Century Precision Optics receiving a Scientific and Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1991. In 2016, Steve received the Society of Camera Operators’ (SOC) Distinguished Service Lifetime Achievement Award.
His son, Steven Jr wrote the following: “Steven Manios Sr. 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 following decades, Manios developed the company, renamed Century Precision Optics, into a major supplier of specialty optical equipment. Their Tele-Athenar telephoto lenses were widely used in filming action sports and wildlife, including Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer (1966) and the TV series Wild America and Hawaii Five-O. The company created a custom relay system used in shooting model sequences for the first Star Wars movie. They also developed specialized lenses used by the U.S. military and NASA for testing and tracking, and by auto manufacturers in crash tests. Wide angle lenses were developed for underwater cinematography.
“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.
“Around 2004 Steve Manios had an idea for a new high quality, wide angle, short zoom lens that he felt was needed for hand held and Steadicam work in the movies. He approached his friends at Angénieux with his concept and funded the design and initial manufacture of what became widely popular Angenieux 15-40 T2.6 Optimo zoom lens. This lens then became the first in Angeniex’s award winning Optimo and DP Series of zoom lenses.
“Steve Manios Sr is survived by his wife, Linda; children Athena, Steven Jr. and Dina, and seven grandchildren.”
In the second issue of FDTimes, published July 2005, I wrote: “Is there a lightweight, handheld zoom lens that makes it as easy to shoot documentary style in 35mm as in 16mm? Up to now, the choices were Century Optics/Canon 17-35mm T3 conversions, 16mm zooms with doublers, or Panavision’s LWZ2 17.5-34mm T2.8. Lightweight, handheld 35mm zoom lenses are in the works by Angenieux/Manios Optical.” That was the Optimo 15-40 T2.6, at 4.4 lb / 2 kg. The first working model was shown in November 2006. It was followed by the 28-76 T2.6, delivered about a year later.
These small, light, rugged and sharp lenses became de rigeur for handheld, Steadicam, remote-heads, rigs, car mounts and wherever size and weight of the zoom are critical. They were honored with a Sci-Tech Award on Feb 7, 2009. The Academy wrote, “With focus and zoom functions that can be easily controlled by either the operator or focus puller while filming handheld, these lightweight zoom lenses demonstrate a very high degree of engineering, supporting both ease of use and quick interchange.” Steve Manios, Sr. was lauded for his original concept and vision getting these lenses off the ground.
Dominique Rouchon, Deputy Managing Director, Angénieux International Sales-Marketing & Communication, said about Steven Manios Sr, “The whole Angénieux team was so sad when we learned the bad news. For me, Steve was a dear friend and a mentor. He was an Angénieux intimate for many decades. When I joined Angénieux 33 years ago, his company called Century Precision Optics was the Angénieux cinema distributor in the US. He made the 25-250 HR lens a big success in Hollywood and contributed to the specifications of the famous Optimo 24-290, in collaboration with Denny Clairmont, another very dear friend whom we lost in 2020. Otto Nemenz was also part of the approach. Three legends of the industry with Angénieux for a legendary lens!
Then in 2005, we joined our forces with Steve to propose the Optimo 15-40 lightweight lens to the market. He supported the project financially and commercially with his son Steven Jr. When you think about the success of the 25-250 HR that the young generation still uses as a vintage lens, the Optimo 24-290 which was manufactured for more than 17 years, and the Optimo 15-40 and 28-76, we can be proud of what Angénieux and Steve Manios achieved together during decades of collaboration. It shows the strength of friendship and partnerships in the cinema industry. Steve was the kind of person you expect to live forever, so it is a shock. He will be deep in our hearts forever.”
Andrew Steele, Technical Managing Director of EMIT in Paris, wrote, “Steve Sr. was the first of the EMIT suppliers I ever met back in 1991. I had just left the Navy. I have always thought of Steve Sr. as my Mentor and Friend. He taught, explained and encouraged me during my early days when he was Century and continued to do so throughout my career.”
Steve taught me so much. He was on top of the telephone speed dial. Steve was one of the original advisors in setting up and guiding Film and Digital Times when we launched in early 2005. Before that, I was a frequent customer of Century Precision Optics telephoto lenses. I think it was those long lens shots in The Endless Summer that helped inspire my career. I bought my first tele lenses from Steve when I was still in school. Later, my favorite was his Canon 150-600 cine modification. No trip to LA was without a visit to Steve at Century Optics, often accompanied by a delicious lunch at his favorite restaurant nearby. As Andrew said, Steve was a mentor and a friend. He will be missed.
Elisabetta Cartoni writes:
In April 1982, after NAB, my Dad, Guido Cartoni and I were in Los Angeles. An Italian rental house was looking for a Century Precision Optics Periscope.
Our dear friend Ed Di Giulio drove us to Burbank Boulevard in North Hollywood and introduced us to Steve Manios Sr. It was an immediate click, after 2 minutes the 3 men Ed, Guido and Steve
were immersed in a technical conversation. I was witnessing one of those rare moments when quality brains get together and start imagining and creating….what a treat!
Since that day, Steve became a dear friend. I got to know Linda, his delightful wife, Steve Jr. and Dina. The Manios Family adopted the Cartoni family with the most easygoing and warm welcome…..”una faccia, una razza!” Steve used to say, hugging me as a younger sister. I have lost my friend Steve and I am heartbroken.
We’ve had almost 40 years of sincere warm friendship, wonderful partnership, great talks, great barbecues and dozens of NAB shows in Las Vegas. Dear Steve you’ve left us in a state of emptiness but you will always be in our hearts.