Are you a new shooter looking to understand the difference between a first-focal plane and a second-focal plane rifle scope?
Most shooters would benefit from this knowledge, as the scope’s capabilities will be able to help elevate their game and make them better shooters in the long run.
This guide will illustrate the differences between a first or second focal plane scope and help you decide which is best for your needs and preferences.
- First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane: Head-to-Head Comparison
- What Is the First Focal Plane?
- What Is the Second Focal Plane?
- Reticle Size and Magnification
- Holdovers and Ranging
- Dynamic Shooting Scenarios
- Precision Shooting and Known Distances
- Reticle Clutter and Sight Picture
- Quick Adjustments vs. Consistency
- Light Conditions and Visibility
- Calculation and Adaptation
- Personal Shooting Style and Preference
- How to Choose the Right Scope for You?
- Final Thoughts on FFP vs. SFP
First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane: Head-to-Head Comparison
The main difference between the first focal plane (FFP) vs second focal plane (SFP) would be where their reticle is located and how the user views the reticle.
A first focal plane scope positions the reticle in front of the erector system, which causes it to grow or shrink as the magnification level changes.
Meanwhile, a second focal plane scope keeps its reticle behind the erector system, meaning that it will remain static through its magnification range, undisturbed by mechanical movement.
Knowing the more specific differences between the focal plane rifle scopes will help you decide which style is better for your needs.
What Is the First Focal Plane?
The first focal plane is the plane in which the reticle grows as the sight picture grows, as the erector system that allows for magnification moves the reticle at the same time.
With a first focal plane reticle, the crosshairs grow or shrink with your magnification setting as you zoom in or out. This makes it the better choice for making long-range targets appear closer and easier to aim at.
What Is the Second Focal Plane?
A second (or a rear focal plane) reticle is positioned closer to your eye. It is located behind the magnification lenses within the erector tube assembly and is unaffected when you change magnification levels.
As you adjust, the second focal plane reticle stays the same size, regardless of how close your target appears due to the zoom.
Reticle Size and Magnification
FFP scopes have their FFP reticle expand or retract as your magnification setting increases or decreases, which is ideal for precision shooting and “closing the gap” between your target and your eye.
SFP scopes keep their reticle at the same size regardless of their magnification level, which makes them easier to use and better for low-power rifle scopes.
Holdovers and Ranging
Scope holdovers refer to the position of your crosshairs in your optic being higher than normal to account for bullet drop.
The reticle hash marks represent a holdover for an SFP scope but remain the same size that they would be at the highest magnification power.
For example, an SFP scope with a 1-18x range would only show the reticle hash marks at 18x zoom.
These reticle hash marks should work in any setting, but their designers only set them for the top magnification. On the other hand, the FFP reticle holdovers become more visible as you zoom in.
Dynamic Shooting Scenarios
An FFP scope would have hash marks visible at any setting due to the first focal plane reticle growing and shrinking.
Thus, an FFP scope would excel in dynamic shooting situations. The wide range allows you to hit far and quickly shift to a lower magnification to cut parallax distortions and acquire new targets.
This flexibility is great for most hunters when tracking prey across the open country as they can adjust holdover with their ever-present hash marks.
Precision Shooting and Known Distances
Both focal plane riflescope models have their terrain and range specialties.
FFP scopes are better suited for long-range shooting. Their models often come with a larger zoom (25x and above), and the size-increasing reticle makes aiming at close and long distances feel the same.
On the other hand, SFP scopes are better suited for precision shooting at medium-close ranges as a fixed reticle size provides a large sight picture and visible reticles even at the lowest magnification.
SFP scopes are effective hunting scopes as they provide hunters with an easy-to-see reticle, allowing them to spot their prey quickly and adapt on the spot.
Reticle Clutter and Sight Picture
The markings on the first focal plane scopes shrink as you zoom out, becoming near invisible against dark backgrounds. Even with enough light, the shifting size of the target markings can be disorienting.
At its highest possible setting, the now thicker markings of the FFO scope can cover too much of the target, especially in confusing environments like forests.
Meanwhile, an SFP rifle scope has a clear-sighted picture and consistent reticle that gives you enough field of view to see what is going on around your target.
Quick Adjustments vs. Consistency
Target shooters prefer an FFP scope for its easy reticle adjustments that create perfect shot conditions.
Whenever long-range hunters adjust the reticle, the crosshairs, holdover marks, and other markings become more visible when you zoom in, which makes aiming easier.
Most of all, all these adjustments can be made very quickly as every mark represents the same Minute of Angle (MOA), the unit of measurement for aiming.
Where the FFP’s reticle grows, the reticle for an SFP scope remains consistent, whether at short or long ranges. The consistent SFP reticle has the advantage of keeping a shot ready when you change targets.
Light Conditions and Visibility
Between a first focal plane vs. second focal plane, the former would be disadvantageous when hunting in the dark, as they would need to be at their lowest magnification to gather more light, with crosshairs being barely visible.
Illuminated reticles may help you see in low light, but they can often reveal your location when stalking your prey, depending on your light source.
Meanwhile, second focal plane scopes may often be better in low light conditions, as their crosshairs would be visible at any time of day and magnification range.
Calculation and Adaptation
Regardless of power settings, a disadvantage for SFP models is that they need more thought and calculation when you make your shots. This is because each hash mark represents the same value (in MOA) regardless of setting.
You must also consider that this accuracy is only true at one magnification, the highest setting. For example, an SFP Viper HST 6-24×50 would only have accurate hash marks at 16x magnification.
This is where FFP scopes excel, as you need to do fewer calculations as their markings adjust to magnification and always provide accurate information. However, this capability is only available among higher-end models.
Personal Shooting Style and Preference
When deciding between either scope, consider your needs and habits.
Do you need a scope to make precise changes before a shot to account for bullet drop? Are you the kind of shooter who relies on having a wide field of view and needs to adapt quickly while on the hunt?
Remember your priorities when choosing between a second or first focal plane scope, as this will affect which scope type works best for you.
How to Choose the Right Scope for You?
Whenever you are choosing between a first or a second focal plane scope, consider these factors below, as both focal plane scope models are effective if you know what you are doing.
- Purpose and Shooting Style
- Environmental Conditions
- Level of Expertise
Purpose and Shooting Style
Consider your habits and equipment preferences before choosing a scope.
Are you a dynamic shooter who must react to erratic environments or targets? Maybe you are a precision shooter who doesn’t want bullet drop to affect their perfect shot.
The FFP scope is one with reticles positioned farther along the optic. The reticle grows to provide accurate information as you reach full magnification, making it ideally suited for long-range shooting.
On the other hand, the second focal plane reticle stays the same as you cycle across magnifications. This makes it better for closer-range shooters or those who lack experience reading data provided by hash marks.
Besides the scope itself and how you shoot it, consider where you would be shooting. For example, are you a forest hunter searching for prey hiding in foliage or a competition shooter where you need as much clarity to work with?
What is a second focal plane scope but an optic that provides solid reticle visibility regardless of target distance or items appearing in the sight picture? This makes it a must-have for aiming at targets in thick brush or rain.
Meanwhile, the benefits of a first focal plane scope are that its more in-depth holdovers allow you to use more precise adjustments, accounting for environmental factors over long distances. However, it may be harder to see the reticle in harsh environments.
Level of Expertise
Lastly, consider how familiar and skilled you are when making reticle adjustments and holdovers, as experienced shooters can take advantage of either scope type.
That said, experts may prefer to use first focal plane scopes as they can quickly adjust their reliable crosshairs to precisely hit their target some distance away.
However, second focal plane scopes are the most common scope for newbies as they reduce the number of moving parts that inexperienced shooters may find confusing.
Final Thoughts on FFP vs. SFP
The main difference between first or second focal plane scopes is how their reticle behaves with increased magnification.
An FFP scope would have its reticle grow and retract along with its magnification range to provide more dialed-in accuracy. On the other hand, an SFP scope provides a consistent reticle at any range for increased flexibility.
Your choice of focal plane will depend mainly on your preferences, but either will serve to make you a better shooter as long as you practice with your chosen focal plane scope.