Steven Manios Sr., Optical Wizard in Hollywood, Dies at 82

Steven Manios Sr.
Courtesy of Manios Family

Steve Manios Sr.

At Century Precision Optics, he developed devices used for 'Star Wars,' 'Hawaii Five-O' and 'Endless Summer.'

Steven Manios Sr., the former owner and president of Century Precision Optics who developed wide-angle and telephoto lenses for film and television production, died Sunday from COVID-19 complications, his family announced. He was 82.

During his five decades in Hollywood, Manios was awarded several U.S. patents and earned the patronage of many top cinematographers and rental houses. His work in adapting the Canon 150-600 zoom lens for professional use brought Century Precision Optics a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1992.

In 2016, he received the Distinguished Service Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Camera Operators.

Born in Athens on Sept. 4, 1938, Maniios and his family survived Greece's Great Famine of 1941-42, which killed 300,000 people.

At age 19, he moved to Los Angeles and became an apprentice to Chris Condon, a family friend and owner of Century Photo Supplies. He went onto become a skilled optical craftsman, then bought the company from Condon in 1973.

Manios renamed the firm Century Precision Optics and transformed it into a major supplier of specialty optical equipment. Its Tele-Athenar telephoto lenses were used in filming action sports and wildlife and for the 1966 film Endless Summer and such TV series as Wild America and Hawaii Five-O. The company also created a custom relay system used in shooting model sequences in Star Wars (1977).

Century Precision Optics 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.

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. 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.

Survivors include his wife, Linda; children Athena, Steven Jr. and Dina; and seven grandchildren.