First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane: The Ultimate Buying Guide

There are few decisions more important for a hunter than choosing the correct focal plane scope. In fact, one of the questions we are most often asked by our readers is whether they should buy a first focal plane scope or one in the second position. Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on the purposes you intend to use your rifle for.

Do you want to find out which scope focal position you should buy? In this guide, our expert shooters go in-depth to spell out the differences between the two scope varieties and which is best for your individual needs.

Be warned, however, that the answer is not a simple one. Overall, the answer to the great debate between first focal plane vs second focal plane will depend on an honest self-assessment of your needs and personal preferences.

Comparison Table - FFP And SFP Reticles Scopes

How They Work

Quite frankly, it is impossible to understand how scope focal planes work without first understanding how modern telescopic sights work.

Telescopic Sight

Telescopic sights, otherwise known as scopes, work by zooming in a target through an eyepiece via a built-in refracting telescope. Through the eyepiece, the shooter will notice a reticle that determines where the shot will be placed. The use of optical lenses and scopes make long distance shooting easier by increasing accuracy and minimizing the effects of recoil.

Scopes magnify far-away objects via the focal length of the eyepiece that is inside the device. The focal length of the lens acts as a telescope would, thus the targeted objects in the scope sightline will appear to be larger than it is to the naked eye.

Similarly, the objective lens diameter determines the amount of light that is gathered to create the image in the eyepiece. The longer the lens is in diameter, the brighter the image will appear. Likewise, the field of view (FOV) of a scope is a linear value that ascribes the precise number of degrees that the image will be viewed in (i.e., 180 degrees).

Focal Plane

Scopes that feature refracting telescope technology to present an image to the viewer have two primary planes of focus which the shooter’s crosshairs can aim with. These two planes are the first focal plane (FFP) and the second focal plane (SFP).

Some firearms, specifically those with fixed power scope sights, have no noticeable difference between these two focal planes. However, variable scope sights with the FFP expand and contract with the image as the magnification is adjusted. By contrast, SFP scopes on a variable system will feature a reticle that remains the same size regardless of magnification.

By default, most modern variable-power scopes are SFP unless stated otherwise. For many shooters, SFP reticles provide a more comfortable and natural shot than alternative systems.

Advantages and Disadvantages

To fully understand the difference between SFP and FFP, readers need to be aware of their respective advantages. In the first focal plane vs second focal plane discussion, it must be emphasized that there is no clear-cut superior system. Rather, both scope systems have their distinct advantages. Here is a quick breakdown of the most obvious benefits of FFP and SFP.

First Focal Plane

Although it is difficult to communicate without a visual representation, it helps to understand the difference between FFP and SFP if the reader imagines an object in their sightline. When peering through a scope toward, say, a deer, the crosshair (or reticle) will be placed over top of the object and appear very small.  

When you increase the magnification of your scope, the reticle will become larger and take up more of the sightline in the eyepiece. In other words, the crosshair will appear larger, although it will remain consistent with the size of the deer since the deer will also increase in size when zoomed in further.

For those with poor eyesight, FFP may be a safer option. This is because the shooter will be able to notice the reticle with greater ease than the SFP, which remains small relative to the target no matter the level of magnification.

Further, FFP scopes are generally considered superior for holdovers and hold-unders when targeting multiple objects. When using an FFP reticle, wind correction is also easier and faster according to many experienced long-distance shooters.

Second Focal Plane

The second focal plane (SFP) is an entirely different animal compared to the FFP. The main and obvious advantage of the SFP position is that the reticle will appear at a constant size to the shooter regardless of the level of magnification. This makes aiming a reliable and consistent experience that won’t “throw off” novice or beginner shooters.

When learning how to shoot, many prefer to use an SFP reticle. This is because it is easier to learn with than an FFP because there are no surprises during the aiming experience. Rather, the aiming process becomes predictable and consistent from start to finish. For those who shoot long range, this reticle position is usually not an ideal choice.

The benefit of an SFP over an FFP reticle is that the crosshair of an FFP will tend to remain small and thin then at low levels of magnification before suddenly becoming long and thick when at higher zoom settings. For many, this sudden change can be jarring and unsettling. Far too often we find that this change can ruin a novice’s shot before they even squeeze the trigger.

scope for hunting

via Giphy

Hunting


For hunting, SFP is generally considered to be inferior to FFP. However, this should not discourage hunters from investing in an SFP reticle if they feel they might prefer this style. Again, it largely comes down to a matter of personal preference when deciding on a first focal plane vs second focal plane.

The rationale behind why hunters prefer FFP is that it can be complicated and time-consuming to mentally calculate the size of one’s reticle relative to the target change during magnification adjustments. However, hunters who only shoot at long range with the same level of magnification will not have to worry about these issues.

Best SFP Reticles Scopes

To help you find the best SFP reticle scopes, our experts put together this list of the best on the market today.

Primary Arms 1-6x24mm SFP Scope

Primary Arms SLX 1-6x24mm SFP Rifle Scope Gen III - Illuminated ACSS-300BO/7.62x39
  • 1-6x24 scope has a chevron center aiming point ACSS 300AAC blackout / 7.62x39 reticle designed for CQB and medium range aiming
  • Second focal plane design keeps the reticle the same size through all 1-6x levels of magnification
  • Reticle is partially illuminated in red and powered by the included CR2032 battery with 12 brightness settings
  • 6063-aluminum scope body has multi-coated lenses and is nitrogen purged, fog resistant and waterproof
  • Covered by a lifetime manufacturer warranty for defects due to materials, workmanship or normal wear and tear

The Primary Arms 1-6x24mm SFP Scope is the all-around best option for novice shooters who want to learn how to transition to long or medium-range shooting. We recommend this device for its durable build, fantastic focal range, and patented CR2032 illumination.

Vortex Optics Viper HS-T 6-24x50 SFP Scope

Vortex Optics Viper HS-T 6-24x50 SFP Riflescope VMR-1 MOA
  • The Viper HS-T 6-24x50 is one of multiple configurations in the Viper HS-T (Hunting & Shooting Tactical) line. VMR-1 Reticle (MOA) is perfect for accurate holds at extended ranges . Featured length of the barrel is approximately around 15.5 inches
  • Incorporating our premium, fully multi-coated, extra-low dispersion lenses brings excellent resolution and color fidelity. The XR coatings provide enhanced light gathering capability while Armortek coating protects the lenses.
  • The exposed target-style turrets are constructed for precise and repeatable finger-adjustable clicks. A CRS Zero Stop allows for reliable return to zero capability after dialing temporary elevation corrections.
  • A 4x zoom provides magnification versatility while the side focus parallax adjustment provides optimal image focus and parallax removal. The fast focus eyepiece allows the shooter to properly adjust the reticle to your eye.
  • The one-piece tube is o-ring sealed and argon purged to ensure waterproof and fogproof performance. The Viper HS-T is a versatile yet simple riflescope that is at home in a hunting, target shooting, or tactical application.

The Vortex Optics Viper HS-T 6-24x50 SFP Scope is a great scope for those who want a higher-end model than the Primary Arms 1-6x24mm. This scope provides excellent value for novice and veteran shooters alike who want to benefit from Vortex’s premium VMR-1 reticle and ultra-durable multi-coated lenses.

With the option of 24x magnification, this scope is the perfect choice for long distance shooters who want to stick with an SFP reticle option. Overall, our experience with this scope has been extremely positive and we would recommend it for any shooter who wants to master SFP-equipped shooting.


Best FFP Reticles Scopes

Finding a quality FFP reticle scope can be a real challenge these days. That is why our expert team hand-tested the finest on the market to put together this quick list of the best FFP reticle scopes in the industry.

Primary Arms Platinum Series 1-8x24 FFP

Athlon Optics , Argos BTR, Riflescope, 6-24 x 50 First Focal Plane (FFP) 30 mm Tube, Illuminated APMR MIL Reticle,
  • First focal plane reticle stays valid at all power settings allowing you to fully utilize the specially designed reticle that shrinks or grows along with your target as you zoom in or out.
  • Advanced Fully Multi-Coated lenses gives you better light transmission to bring optimum brightness and true color across the entire light spectrum.
  • Reticle etched on the glass that provides excellent backing support for complex reticle design and offers great durability and much higher shock resistance to recoil
  • The 6061T6 aircraft grade aluminum tube that has exceptional strength and superior mechanical integrity will protect these world class optics no matter what punishment you throw at it
  • Argon purging gives you better waterproofing and thermal stability

For a budget-friendly FFP solution, we recommend checking out the Primary Arms Platinum Series 1-8x24 FFP reticle scope. Not only does this scope offer lots of versatility with a 1-8x magnification, but it is also among the most rugged and durable on the market. Made of premium aluminum alloy, this scope can take a serious beating before it starts to give way.

Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC 2.5-10x50 Scope

Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC Riflescope, Black, 2.5-10x50
  • Features Nikon's patented BDC reticle with see-through ballistic circles for superior long-range shooting
  • Adjustments are made easy with Spring-Loaded Instant Zero-Reset Turrets
  • Made with Nikon's fully multicoated optics for maximum brightness and light transmission
  • A quick focus eyepiece allows the shooter to instantly bring the reticle into focus
  • Optimized for use with Nikon's Spot On Ballistic Match Technology

The Nikon PROSTAFF 5 BDC 2.5-10x50 Scope is arguably the best FFP scope in its price range. This scope packs all the premium high-quality materials you would expect from a Nikon product, with an excellent warranty and return policy to back it. Overall, there is hardly any risk in trying out the Nikon PROSTAFF 5 if you want an industry-leading FFP reticle scope.

Monstrum Tactical 1-6x24 FFP Scope

Monstrum Tactical 1-6x24 First Focal Plane (FFP) Rifle Scope with Illuminated BDC Reticle (Black)
  • High precision tactical rifle scope with 1-6x magnification, a 24mm objective lens, and an eye relief of 4-4.5 inches
  • Functionally designed first focal plane rangefinder reticle, with easy-to-read ranging information that remains constant regardless of magnification, for faster range estimation and holdover correction
  • Dial controlled reticle illumination in both red and green with multiple brightness intensities, for better reticle visibility at night or in low light in environments
  • Aircraft grade aluminum construction with a 30mm sealed, nitrogen charged tube for resistance to water and fog
  • Package also includes set of medium profile picatinny scope rings, a detachable honeycomb filter sunshade, a set of bikini-style see-through lens covers, a felt drawstring carrying bag, a lint free cleaning cloth, and one CR2032 3V battery

With a 1-6x magnification, the Monstrum Tactical 1-6x24 FFP Scope does not provide the greatest range. However, it features an excellent eye relief barrel and an easy-to-read reticle that is great for entry-level shooters. Plus, its aircraft-grade construction makes it a long-lasting device that will serve you well for many seasons.

Conclusions

In conclusion, it must be reiterated that the first focal plane vs second focal plane discussion is one that hinges on the shooter’s individual needs. For novice hunters and those unfamiliar with the intricate techniques inherent to long-distance shooting, SFP reticles are generally undesirable. However, FFP can offer faster readying and greater accuracy for veteran shooters.