The discussion between first focal plane and second focal plane reticles has been long debated amongst gun enthusiasts, but some folks don’t know what either term means. If you’re looking to buy a scope and don’t know which of these two choices to pick between, let us help. We’ll explain everything you need to know about both types of reticles in our guide.
What is First Focal Plane?
Focal planes describe the position in which your scope’s reticle will be inside your scope’s tube. Reticles are either in the first focal plane, closer to your eye, or the second focal plane, father from your eye.
First focal plane crosshairs adjust with your magnification level. That is to say, the reticle will grow smaller at low magnification and larger at high magnification. This will, in turn, change how the increments and spacers are placed on the reticle.
This plane acts just like a second focal plane reticle if you only have a scope at one magnification. Therefore, if you have a scope with fixed magnification, first or second focal plane doesn’t really matter for you since the reticle will never change anyway.
First focal plane reticles are great because their MOA sub tensions will not change even as the reticle changes size. This can make adjusting for greater distances easier than with a second focal plane reticle.
What is Second Focal Plane?
Second focal plane reticles are placed further down the scope tube than first focal plane reticles. These reticles will remain that same size no matter what magnification level you use. This means that, for scopes with variable magnification, second focal plane reticles can be used to keep your crosshairs the same across distances.
This can make second focal plane reticles better for close-range targeting since the reticle size will never balloon and become so thick as to affect your accuracy.
This also means that these reticles’ MOA sub tensions are only truly accurate at the scope’s preferred range. You can use these reticles for variable scopes but must compensate mentally for the lack of adjustment to MOA sub tensions.
Pros and Cons of First Focal Plane Scopes
Let’s look at some good things and flaws for first focal plane scopes.
Your MOA sub tensions remain the same no matter the magnification. These allow you to adjust and compensate for angle drift for shots fired from some distance.
You can range and measure objects accurately no matter the distance. These reticles work well with windage and elevation adjusters due to this consistency.
Leads will stay constant, as will holds. This allows for consistent accuracy if you can remember to adjust your aim and expectations and can keep up with the visual shock of the changing reticle thickness.
Even if the reticle size and measurements change, the point of impact will always remain the same. This still allows the use of the reticle for pinpoint accuracy in perfect conditions or if the MOA and other factors are accounted for beforehand or through the assistance of a spotter.
FFP reticles can be hard to see when the magnification is lower, especially with crowded backgrounds. For tracking targets through the forest or other busy environments, this can become difficult as the thin reticle lines will start to blend or blur with the action, lowering your accuracy.
As magnification increases and the reticle gets bigger, too far of a magnification might make the reticle too large to see around. This prevents scopes that use FFP reticles from going into the higher echelon of magnification levels, such as 50x or higher. You are effectively limited to scopes with magnification below 40x.
Pros and Cons of Second Focal Plane Scopes
Now let’s see what second focal plane scopes bring to the table.
Reticles of this type are always easy to keep track of thanks to their constant, moderate size. Higher magnification settings can thus make use of these reticles since measuring your constants and holds will be reliable even at great distances.
Scopes with SFP reticles are usually cheaper than FFP scopes since manufacturing costs tend to be lower as well. This is because making a reticle that shifts with magnification settings results in a more complicated scope altogether, driving the overall price up.
The reticle will remain accurate no matter the distance or magnification and measuring the difference between MOA levels is easy if you choose appropriate magnification levels. For instance, if an SFP scope is set for 12x magnification, you can still use it with a scope set to 24x magnification if you halve the distance between measurement dots to represent the double adjustment.
Range estimation techniques are only going to reliably work at the proper magnification setting; for variable scopes, this can be an issue. If you use an SFP scope, you'll need to find its "true" magnification and remember to compensate for MOA and other measurements manually when you switch away from this perfect setting.
You can’t reliably use these kinds of reticles for variable long-range shooting, or shooting that takes place at a distance with a high magnification setting. Your MOA reticle values will change and so will your holds and leads.
Comparison For Hunting
FFP and Hunting
With FFP reticles, you can track game that moves quickly and might shift their distance to you rapidly within the span of seconds. Measurement adjusting is easier due to the adaptation of the reticle.
SFP and Hunting
As the reticle is easier to see, using SFP reticles in low light or at low magnification is easier altogether for hunting. Nighttime or close-quarters shooting situations will benefit from an SFP scope with a reticle designed for fixed magnification.
SFP reticles are easier on eyes in intense situations or when light conditions are poor.
SFP reticles allow for more precise aiming within their defined magnification level. These are great for fixed scopes or for medium-range rifles if you have a backup sidearm.
Comparison For Long Range Shooting
FFP and Long Range Shooting
Adjustable reticle means that you can adjust for minor changes in distance without difficulty.
FFP reticles allow you to more accurately measure distance, range, and MOA factors at long distances and can maintain measurement consistency throughout different magnification levels. You can start from far away from the target and progressively zoom in as the time to shoot draws near.
Long-range shooting is often defined by changing position and distance. This is great for FFP reticles.
At long ranges, the FFP reticle will appear to shrink, preventing it from covering up your target even at extreme distances.
SFP and Long Range Shooting
You can fire more shots accurately if the shooting is in your scope’s preferred magnification range. This is because you spend less time calculating distance and range and more time aiming and firing.
Comparison For Tactical Shooting
FFP and Tactical Shooting
Adaptability might be the difference between life and death in tactical fights. As your position changes, you can adjust your scope’s magnification and be confident in your measurements as you adjust for shots.
The reticle will never cover your target, no matter the distance. This can be crucial for sighting distant targets or for spotting closer targets.
SFP and Tactical Shooting
You won’t waste time in frantic moments with measurement adjustments with SFP scopes. Instead, you should keep your weapon in its optimal range, if possible, to keep your reticle accurate and reliable.
There is no one right answer when it comes to this classic debate. Instead, both first focal and second focal plane scopes have their advantages and disadvantages, and which is right for you is largely a personal preference. We hope this guide has helped explain their differences and helped you find the perfect scope for your rifle.