There are two types of focal planes for rifle scopes on the market today.
First Focal Plane (FFP) and Second Focal Plane (SFP). In this guide, we explain their differences and which one is the best for your particular applications.
If you haven’t purchased a long range scope yet, this is going to be a quick read and they’re fairly easy to understand before you buy.
Once you understand what they’re you can check out the best long range scopes here.
Learn more below:
What They’re & Differences
Both systems allow you to apply ballistic corrections at long range, and both are reliable and durable. But First Focal Plane (FFP) is best for extreme long range.
First Focal Plane
First Focal Plane (Also labeled as FFP or F1) is desirable for long range shooting, and it’s the ultimate choice, but it will cost a little more.
The reticle inside the scope is in front of the magnification, which means the reticle increases in size to match the distance, and the reticle holds true on any magnification setting.
The advantage the FFP reticle – The reticle subtensions remain the same regardless of magnification; a 1-mil dot is a 1-mil dot no matter what magnification the scope is at, basically proportionally scaled as you adjust the magnication.
Same ballistic correction regardless of magnification – Make ballistic corrections for trajectory or wind the exact same way at any magnification power.
In reality, the reticle maintains the same perspective with the target size throughout the magnification range.
For example, the 6 MOA line is at 6 MOA on the lowest setting, the highest setting and everything in between.
In the past, FFP reticles were only found in European riflescopes, and the SFP system was considered the standard for American or Asian optics.
As European optical companies began to enter the American market, they started utilizing the SFP reticle.
The FFP reticle has become very popular with long-range shooters, and as we are adopting their techniques, this reticle is gaining favor with competition shooters and hunters wishing to shoot at long range.
Reasons for getting FFP:
- Long range precision shooting
- Extreme long range shooting
- 9X or more
“First- or front-focal-plane reticles for tactical/long-range shooting are a better choice because the reticle subtensions remain the same regardless of magnification.
The benefits of this are range estimations using the mil relation formula, using the reticle for hold-overs and hold-unders in multiple target scenarios, and applying wind corrections using the reticle.
All these situations become vastly easier with the first-focal-plane reticle.”Caylen Wojcik, a former Marine sniper and the director of Magpul Core’s Precision Rifle Operations
Second Focal Plane
Second Focal Plane (Also labeled as SFP) has the magnification lens in front of the reticle, which means the reticle with range estimator is only true at the highest magnification setting.
If you’re shooting under 6X magnification, the SFP scope will be just fine. Anything over 6X goes with an FFP scope.
Most shooters are familiar with SFP scopes, as that style has been the most common product for many years, and they’re much cheaper than first focal plane scopes.
The downside of an FFP reticle is it appears small and thin at low power and gets thicker at high power, because the reticle doesn’t scale as the shooter adjust the magnification level, which can impact the shooter’s aim.
When a shooter experience this problem, they suddenly realize the benefit of an FFP scope. As the demand for long-range shooting has increased over the years, the FFP reticle became very desirable.
Reasons for getting SFP:
- Hunting & 3 gun
- Shooters with myopia or any other eye impairments
- Shooting within 200-300 yards
- Shooters who prefer maximum magnification settings (Less than 6X)
- Fast range estimation
- Saves money
Related Content: Best Reticles For Hunting Purposes
A scope with the reticle in the first focal plane must be set on at least 6X for me to distinguish the measured increments on the reticle. So for most 3 gun shooters a low power variable SFP scope is the best option.
For variable magnification optics, it’s common to turn the magnification down to reduce visible heat waves, which can be generated from a hot barrel. If you use a SFP reticle, the correction will be distorted
With an FFP reticle, it will not matter.
Shooting At Lower Magnification Power
Taking the advantage of a larger field of view or you need to maximize the brightness during low-light situations is what many shooters want.
Less magnification is the answer. Almost no one really shoot at max power with their scopes.
If you turn your 20X scope to 10X, the reticle subtensions for all of the additional aiming points below the center of the reticle double in size.
This means a 1-mil dot will become a 2-mil dot. A magnification alteration of 20X to 10X is not that hard to calculate in the field, but going from 20X to 13.5X creates a math problem you might not be able to solve easily in your head.
First focal plane scope are generally more expensive, and most of them are geared towards high-end precision long range shooting.
Take a look at some of the high end scopes from Vortex, NightForce, US Optics and others.
High end F1 scopes are generally in the ball park $2K to even $3K price range.
As 6.5 Creedmoor becomes more popular for long range shooting, we’ve created a scope guide specific for the 6.5, which you can check out more here.