First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane Scopes
Today, we will be discussing first focal plane vs second focal plane scopes. Scopes are of course one of the most common types of rifle optics available and have applications across platforms. From precision rifle shooting at extreme ranges to defensive applications with a low-powered variable optic (LPVO), there is a scope for every need. Understandably, many debates about what makes for the best scope exist. From things like whether it should be MOA or MRAD, Illuminated vs. Nonilluminated, exposed vs. covered turrets, and of course, which brand is best. One of the bigger debates that we will discuss today is the one between focal planes – first focal plane vs second focal plane.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this post—scopes differ based on the requirements of the task. In the rest of this blog, we will explain what first and second focal plane scopes are, the merits and drawbacks of each, and what situations they best suit! As always, take this knowledge and adapt it to your unique needs.
Understanding the Differences between First and Second Focal Plane Scopes
What makes a scope first or second focal plane is where the reticle is placed. The reticle is either placed on the first or second focal plane, and the major difference to understand is how the reticle behaves based on where it is located. A first focal plane reticle will adjust in size with magnification, while a second focal plane reticle remains static in size, no matter the adjusted magnification.
As the reticle changes in size on a first focal plane vs second focal plane reticles remaining unchanged, FFP scopes are typically preferred by long-range shooters. This is because as the reticle changes in size, the hash marks inside the reticle pattern do not change their units of measure. Essentially, no matter how high of a power the scope is set to, the hashes will still represent the same value and require no on-the-fly mathematics to determine how far to hold over.
Some important notes on FFP scopes:
- A con to FFP is at low magnification, your reticle is very small and might not be seen as quickly when acquiring your target in your scope
- The counter to this is illuminated reticles to counter the chance of losing your reticle in the field of view inside your scope
- FFP is good for long-distance shots and if you must do quick follow-up shots as well as the hash marks are the same measurements no matter your magnification.
- Con to the changing reticle magnification is the reticle grows with the picture and usually gets a little more detailed, which in turn, takes up more space in your field of view
- For this to not take up a lot of room, at low power the reticles are very small/thin. Illumination needed more because of this
If you grew up learning how to shoot with your father or grandfather, on his hunting rifle with that classic 3×9 power scope, it’s more than likely it was a second focal plane vs a first focal plane scope. On these scopes, the reticle again does not change in size as the magnification is adjusted. Instead, as the image in your sights increases in size, the reticle remains unchanged. However, while the reticle visually does not adjust, the scale of the hash marks in relation to the target have of course changed.
Some important notes on SFP scopes:
- Reticle never changes so depending on your distance, you use the elevation turret for quick distance to target adjustments
- Most “more involved” SFP scopes that have hash marks in these reticles as well are measured like the FFP style, but these measurements are only true at full magnification.
- A con to this would be if you do not use full magnification, you are doing quite a bit of math in your head to make the shot
- Example: if a scope is 4-16 in magnification, your hash marks are 1MOA at 16 power. At 8 power they become double= 2MOA then it’s up to you to figure out where you are at with your scope at 12 magnification, or 7.
- Con to this is you might use the low magnification setting to scan and find your target, once acquired, you should turn to full magnification to get the measurements right. But if the target is closer, it could take up your full field of view, then it moves and now you are trying to scan for your target again.
- An additional con is that the reticle’s increased thickness means that at lower magnification, your reticle will cover more of the target, impeding accuracy or if a far static target comes out of sight due to the maxed-out magnification for the hold over, you need to compensate the bullet drop
Competition Use: First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane
For competitive shooting, such as 3-Gun and PRS (precision rifle series), we find that first focal plane scopes are the most popular option. However, as stated above, an illuminated optic is typically best to overcome the thinner reticle that will be experienced at a lower power. For 3-Gun, a low powered variable optic (LPVO) is the most common first focal plane scope you’ll find in use.
- If you think you have multiple targets, or targets you might need more than one shot
- you can use a certain magnification that could cover a good view on all targets and still be able to use your drop reticles without doing the math on the spot
- This will save you time vs. SFP scopes to not have to adjust your magnification while shooting or need to stop to adjust your turrets
- You do need to know your ballistic hold-over measurements
- Con would be for the close-range targets, the reticle tends to be smaller or thinner as previously stated, so look for an illuminated optic to help with that and for different time of day usage
Like everything else in the world of firearms – it’s essential to understand the purpose of your tool prior to its selection. To best find a scope for your particular needs and application, work with the experts at Frontier Justice today! Visit us in store or chat with us online to find the perfect scope today!