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First Focal Plane Vs. Second Focal Plane

You’re out in the field, lining up your shot, when suddenly you’re hit with a flurry of technical terms like “first focal plane” and “second focal plane.” It’s enough to make your head spin faster than a bullet in flight. But that’s where we come in. We will compare focal planes and help you understand the critical differences between the first focal plane (FFP) vs. second focal plane (SFP) scopes.

FeatureFirst Focal PlaneSecond Focal Plane
Reticle Size AdjustmentReticle size changes along with magnification adjustments.Reticle size remains the same regardless of magnification setting.
Shot Placement PrecisionAllows for precise shot placement at any magnification.May cover up smaller targets when zoomed in.
Preference for Long-Range ShootingPreferred by long-range shooters for accurate holdover and range estimation.Popular among hunters and shooters engaging targets at a fixed distance.
Reticle Proximity to TargetReticle located closest to the target in the first focal plane.Reticle located in the rear focal plane, closer to the shooter
Reticle Behavior with MagnificationReticle changes throughout the entire magnification range.Reticle remains accurate at one specific magnification setting.
Versatility and RangingProvides versatility, precision, and ranging capabilities.Offers simplicity, familiarity, and quick target acquisition.
Reticle Size ConsistencyReticle size adjusts with magnification for accurate aiming.Reticle size remains constant, making it easier to acquire targets at various distances.
Appearance at Different MagnificationsMay appear relatively small at lower magnifications.Lower cost compared to first focal plane scopes.
This table compares the FFP and the SFP

We’ll also help you determine which is best for you.

Whether you’re a long-distance sharpshooter or a weekend warrior, understanding the differences between these focal planes and focal plane optics can significantly impact your shooting accuracy. After all, you want to bag some bucks, right?

Understanding the basics: what is a focal plane?

When it comes to rifle scopes, understanding the concept of a focal plane is essential. Think of it as the stage where all the action happens. The focal plane is an imaginary plane inside the reticle’s scope. It’s responsible for determining the relationship between the reticle and the target you’re aiming at.

Now, let’s break it down a bit further. We have two types of focal planes: the first and the second.

In an FFP scope, the reticle will appear to grow and shrink along with the magnification adjustments.

On the other hand, in a second focal plane reticle, the reticle stays the same size regardless of the magnification setting.

First and Second Focal Plane Examples

To make it easier to understand, imagine you’re looking through a magnifying glass.

In an FFP scope, the reticle becomes larger relative to the target when you zoom in, allowing for precise shot placement at any magnification.

With an SFP scope, the reticle stays the same size, making long-range shooting more challenging as the reticle may cover up smaller targets when zoomed in.

Understanding the focal plane concept is crucial when selecting a scope for your shooting needs. The choice between FFP and SFP scopes depends on the shooting applications and personal preferences.

Differentiating first focal plane and second focal plane scopes.

Anatomy of a Rifle Scope
This picture demonstrates where the SFP and FFP are in relation to the riflescope.

Regarding rifle scopes, the focal plane is a key factor to consider. To make an informed choice, it’s essential to understand the difference between a first focal plane scope and a second focal plane scope.

Let’s say you’re on a hunting trip, looking for a trophy buck. You spot the magnificent animal in the distance and take the shot.

Here’s where the FFP scope comes into play — its reticle size changes along with the magnification, ensuring that your holdover points and windage corrections remain accurate at any magnification setting.

On the other hand, an SFP scope keeps the reticle size constant regardless of magnification.

This difference in reticle behavior is the main distinction between FFP and SFP scopes. In an FFP scope, the reticle is located closest to the target in the first focal plane.

As you adjust the magnification of the scope, the reticle size increases or decreases, allowing for precise holdover points and quick adjustments in the field.

Conversely, an SFP scope has the reticle in the rear focal plane, closer to the shooter, where the reticle remains the same size irrespective of magnification.

Now, you might wonder which one is better.

Well, it depends on your shooting style and intended use.

FFP scopes are highly favored by long-range shooters who require accurate holdover and range estimation capabilities at different magnification levels. On the other hand, SFP scopes are popular among hunters and shooters who mainly engage targets at a fixed distance, as they provide a simpler and more familiar reticle size at their preferred magnification range.

Understanding the difference between FFP and SFP scopes is crucial when choosing a rifle scope that suits your shooting needs. Whether you prioritize versatility, precision, or simplicity and familiarity, the right focal plane selection can significantly enhance your shooting experience.

Pros and cons of first focal plane scopes.

ProsCons
Reticle size changes with magnification, allowing for accurate holdovers at any magnification setting.Reticle may appear relatively small at lower magnifications, making it challenging to see and use in low-light conditions.
Versatility and precision in long-range shooting.First focal plane scopes can be more expensive than second focal plane scopes.
Reticle ranging capabilities are unmatched, allowing for consistent estimation of target distance.Not necessary for close-quarters shooting or situations that don’t require advanced ranging capabilities.
This table shows the pros and cons of first focal plane scopes.

First focal plane scopes have distinct advantages that make them highly desirable for certain shooting scenarios.

FFP pros.

One significant benefit is that the reticle on a first focal plane scope changes throughout the entire magnification range.

As you increase or decrease the scope’s magnification, the reticle’s size and the target image change. For example, if you spot a target at 500 yards and want to take a shot at 800 yards, you can simply adjust the magnification on a first focal plane scope, and the reticle will accurately represent the distance.

This versatility is particularly useful for long-range shooting, where precise holdovers and adjustments are vital. With a first focal plane scope, you can quickly calculate bullet drop or windage adjustments without referring to charts or tables. This feature can significantly improve your accuracy and speed in the field.

Additionally, the ranging capabilities of a first focal plane reticle are unmatched – you can consistently estimate target distance regardless of the magnification setting.

FFP cons.

However, it’s important to consider the potential drawbacks of a first focal plane scope. The reticle might appear relatively small at lower magnifications, making it challenging to see and use in low-light conditions.

Additionally, first focal plane scopes can be more expensive than their second counterparts.

So, if you primarily engage in close-quarters shooting or don’t require advanced ranging capabilities, a first focal plane scope may not be necessary for your needs.

Pros and cons of second focal plane scopes.

ProsCons
Reticle size remains constant, making target acquisition quick and easy.Reticle’s suspensions only remain accurate at one specific magnification setting, usually the highest.
Suitable for situations that require quick target acquisition.May not be the best choice for precision shooting at varying magnification settings.
Generally lower cost compared to first focal plane scopes.
This table shows the pros and cons of first second plane scopes.

Regarding second focal plane scopes, several distinct advantages and disadvantages exist. Let’s start with the pros.

SFP Pros

One major benefit of SFP scopes is that the size of the reticle remains constant, regardless of the magnification settings. This is particularly useful when quick target acquisition, like hunting or engaging multiple targets in a dynamic shooting scenario, is crucial.

For example, imagine you’re out in the field, and suddenly, a deer appears before you. You can swiftly line up your shot with a second focal plane scope without changing the reticle size. This can save valuable time and increase your chances of a successful shot.

We tend to use SFP scopes when we’re in open areas. We can usually acquire the target with our naked eyes then move onto the scope.

Another advantage of SFP scopes is their lower cost than their first focal plane counterparts.

If you’re on a budget but still want a reliable and accurate scope, a second focal plane scope might be a more affordable option that still gets the job done effectively.

SFP Cons

However, it’s also essential to consider the cons of SFP scopes. One limitation of these scopes is that the reticle’s suspensions only remain accurate at one specific magnification setting, usually the highest.

So, if you’re using a second focal plane scope and must make precise adjustments for long-range shooting at different magnifications, you may encounter some challenges.

Second focal plane scopes are great for quick target acquisition and are generally more affordable. However, they may not be the best choice for precision shooting at varying magnification settings.

Choosing the right rifle scope for your needs: factors to consider.

There’s a bit more to the first focal plane vs. second focal plane argument.  When selecting the right rifle scope for you, there are a few essential factors to consider.

Purpose.

Think about the purpose of your shooting. Are you planning on engaging in long-range shooting, or do you prefer shorter distances? This will help determine the appropriate magnification range for your scope.

Target types.

Another factor to consider is the type of shooting you’ll be doing.

If you’re into precision shooting and need to make quick adjustments on the fly, a first focal plane scope may be the way to go.

The advantage of a first focal plane scope is that the reticle size adjusts with the scope’s magnification, allowing for accurate aiming at any level of magnification.

On the other hand, if you primarily engage in hunting or target shooting at known distances, a second focal plane scope might be more suitable for you.

While the reticle size remains constant in a second focal plane scope, the target’s image size changes with the magnification setting. This can make it easier to quickly acquire targets at various distances.

Budget.

Consider your budget as well. First, focal plane scopes tend to be pricier than their second-focal plane counterparts due to the complexity of their design.

However, it might be worth the investment if your shooting discipline demands the versatility and precision offered by a first focal plane scope.

Ultimately, choosing between first vs. second focal plane scopes boils down to your shooting style, purpose, and budget. Take the time to evaluate your specific needs before deciding.

And remember, when it comes to riflescope selection, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution – it’s all about finding the best fit for you.

Know the difference between FFP scopes and SFP scopes.

Understanding the difference between the first-focal and second-focal plane scopes is crucial when selecting the best rifle scope for your needs.

First focal plane scopes offer the advantage of a reticle that scales with magnification, allowing for accurate holdovers at any magnification setting. They are ideal for longer shooting and situations where quick target acquisition is important.

On the other hand, second focal plane scopes maintain a constant reticle size regardless of magnification, making them more suitable for close to mid-range shooting and situations where speed is a priority.

Choosing between a first focal plane and a second focal plane scope ultimately comes down to your shooting preferences and the specific requirements of your intended use. Consider factors such as the shooting distance, magnification range, and the complexity of your shooting scenario.

Each type of focal plane scope has its pros and cons, so it’s important to evaluate them based on your individual needs. We tend to stick with second focal plane rifle scopes for the type of hunting we do. You may find that you need a first focal plane riflescope.

What do you think about this?

About the Author

Matt Johnson Avatar

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.

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