What Is The Difference Between First Focal Plane And Second Focal Plane?
The main difference between first focal plane scopes and second focal plane rifle scopes is the location of the reticle within the scope and the way it appears when the scope is zoomed. As the scope is zoomed throughout its magnification range, the reticle of a first focal plane scope appears to change size in proportion with the field of view and the object it is focused on. Conversely, the reticle of a second focal plane scope appears to stay the same size when it is zoomed, while the object it is focused on gets larger and smaller.
First focal plane scopes are relatively newer than second focal plane scopes. Most of us are familiar with second focal plane scopes (SFP) as they are the traditional scope we all grew up with. Watching the object in the scope get bigger when you increase the magnification, while the reticle stays the same size, is the traditional style of scope most of us are familiar with.
First focal plane scopes tend to be more familiar with long-distance shooters and people who compete in various types of shooting competitions. They are especially useful in competition formats that require shooters to shoot at various differences distances while being timed.
Second Focal Plane Explained
Because most hunters and shooters are more familiar with the traditional second focal plane (SFP) riflescope we will start here. As mentioned above, the SFP rifle scope has a reticle that appears to stay the same size as you change the magnification power.
This is due to the reticle’s physical placement in the second lens group at the back of the scope. (the end closest to your eye) This means that in a variable power scope, as the scope is zoomed in on the target, the crosshairs appear to stay the same size while the object you are focused on gets bigger.
Second Focal Plane Advantages
The main advantage of the second focal plane scope is the fact that the reticle stays the same size as the scopes magnification increases. This makes the crosshairs easy to see at all magnification levels. Additionally, it allows the scope manufacturer to use a crisp and clean crosshair that is easy to see without blocking out too much of the object you are aiming at.
Second Focal Plane Disadvantages
The main disadvantage of a second focal plane scope is that when using a BDC reticle or using a holdover for longer distances is that you need to make sure it is zoomed to its maximum magnification in order for the BDC reticle to work as intended. If you line up for a shot and plan on a specific bullet drop to correspond with specific holdover points on your scope, this will only be accurate at the scope’s maximum magnification setting.
This also applies to using your reticle for ranging objects of known size. It is quite common for experienced hunters to be able to gauge the distance to a target by scoping something like an elk in the field and comparing the height against the hash marks on the reticle. However, this only works at maximum magnification setting and if you happen to bump your zoom and the magnification changes a little bit it can drastically affect the accuracy and reliability of your distance estimations.
First Focal Plane Explained
First focal plane (FFP) scopes are the new kid on the block in the scope world and many traditional hunters have not had the opportunity to use one. Like I mentioned above, when you zoom an FFP scope, the reticle appears to grow larger in sync with the object you are focused on.
The reason the reticle grows with the objective is that the reticle is placed at the front of the scope. (Closer to the muzzle end) This means that the scopes magnification aspect applies equally to the reticle as well as the object you are focusing on.
First Focal Plane Advantages
The main benefit of FFP scopes is the fact that the reticle stays consistent throughout the zoom range. This makes it a very effective design for long-range shooters who want to use a BDC (Ballistic Drop Compensation) reticle design.
If you are shooting at a target of a known range that requires a 2 MOA (or MRAD) you can use that same holdover hash mark when you are zoomed at any magnification level.
First Focal Plane Disadvantages
The main disadvantage of first focal plane riflescopes is that when you decrease the magnification to a low level, the reticle can be too small to be used or even seen easily. To compensate for this, many FFP scope manufacturers are using illuminated reticles to make the reticle easier to see when zoomed in.
The other main disadvantage of FFP scopes is that they are more expensive than comparable second focal plane SFP scopes. This is due to them being slightly more complicated to manufacture as well as the options for illuminated reticles.
One small thing to be aware of, while not a true disadvantage and is applicable to both FFP and SFP scopes with BDC reticles is that you need to make sure you are using the proper BDC reticle design for the cartridge and ballistics profile of your particular rifle and load.
What Is Better, First Focal Plane Or Second Focal Plane?
Now that we have discussed the differences between first or second focal plane scopes, how do you decide which one is better for you?
If you are a hunter who makes most of their shots under 3 or 400 yards then a second focal plane scope in the 3 to 15 power magnification range is probably all you will ever need.
However, if you are a target shooter who can make use of a Christmas tree BDC style reticle but want increased speed of use without dialing in your windage or elevation turrets, you may want to look at some of the new FFP rifle scopes in the 6 to 24 or similar magnification range.
FFP VS SFP For Hunting
While the majority of hunters will never take a shot over 400 yards there is a segment of the hunting community that may be able to take advantage of FFP scopes for hunting uses. If you are proficient and confident in long-range shots it may be an advantage to get an FFP rifle scope that will allow you to make that long shot without taking the time to dial in your range on your turrets.
SFP scopes make it easier to see your reticle at all magnification power settings
FFP VS SFP For Long Range Shooting
Many long-range target shooters still use SFP scopes in the larger magnification ranges. If you have your ballistics well calculated and are comfortable dialing in your shot on your turrets then a simple SFP scope may be just right for you.
With that said, if your long-range target shooting requires you to take multiple shots at various ranges then it may be advantageous for you to be able to change the magnification setting while still maintaining the full use of your BDC reticle.
First Focal Plane VS Second Focal Plane Frequently Asked Questions
Why Are First Focal Plane Scopes More Expensive?
First focal plane scopes use a slightly more complicated design than an SFP scope. Additionally, SFP’s may sometimes have an illuminated reticle to help compensate for reduced visibility of the cross hairs and hash marks at a lower power setting. Various brands such as Leupold and Zeiss make high-quality scopes in both styles with various magnification setting and price points that are worth checking out.
What Is A Dual Focal Plane Scope?
There are a few manufacturers that are now offering dual focal plane scopes. These consist of a simple plex crosshair on the second focal plane with a tree or cascading dots in the first plane. This allows for the crosshairs to stay consistent throughout the full focal range while allowing the BDC hash marks to change throughout the scope’s full focal range.
Second Focal Plane Calculator