Rifle Scopes - First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane

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Rifle Scopes - First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane

Differences Between FFP vs SFP

Looking back over the past 50+ years and it's no surprise just how much the firearm industry has changed. Between WW2 and the 1980s, most gun owners considered the .45 Auto pistol cartridge the best option for personal protection. Today, most gun owners prefer 9mm ammunition for their everyday carry firearm.

Similar to ammunition, American shooters (or hunters, to be more specific) used to despise European-made rifle scopes due to their use of a first focal plane. 

However, we've again seen a dramatic shift over the years, and rifles that feature a first focal plane reticle are in high demand. But why the change, and what's the difference between an FFP vs SFP reticle?

In simple terms, an FFP (first focal plane) scope is one where the reticle seems to change its size as you adjust the magnification. The scope's reticle appears small when zoomed out and more significant when zoomed in. 

With an SFP (second focal plane) scope, the reticle will not keep a proportional size between its reticle and the area within view. In other words, the reticle size does not change and will remain just as large whether you've zoomed all the way out or zoomed in. 

Rifle Scope - First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane

First Focal Plane Reticles

With first focal plane optics, the reticle size will scale up or down with your magnification adjustments. This is because the magnification function within the riflescope magnifies both the reticle and the image/target simultaneously. So, while the reticle size will appear to change with magnification, its relationship to the target never does.

When it comes to price, a first focal plane reticle is also generally associated with higher-end and higher-quality scopes. Therefore the cost of an FFP can often be higher due to its more complex construction.

Pros and Cons: FFP Scope

This is not bad and works perfectly well until you make the common mistake of using one of the added aiming points without the riflescope set to its maximum magnification. However, with the first focal plane reticle, those additional aiming points provide the same number of ballistic corrections no matter the magnification because the relationship between the image/target remains constant.

For example, suppose you're shooting at varied long ranges. In that case, the FFP is considered a more effective optics system because you never have to worry about what magnification your riflescope is set on before you take the shot.

As wonderful as the first focal plane reticle might seem, it's not perfect for all situations. I would argue that it's most ideal for long-range applications where your reticle must remain relatively thin compared to the target.
*Remember that the reticle is magnified with the image/target when equipped with a first focal plane scope.

Lastly, when a rifle scope is set to its lowest power setting, the unmagnified reticle can become very thin, almost invisible. This is especially true with optics that only offer a 3X or 4X magnification range.

Compare this to modern rifle optics with a magnification range of 6X and even 8X. When these first focal plane riflescopes are set to their lowest magnification, the reticle, especially the additional aiming points, can become very difficult to clearly see.

Illumination can make thin first focal plane reticles easier to see at low magnification and especially in low light when the riflescope is set to low magnification.

Second Focal Plane Reticles

With a second focal plane optics, the relationship between the target and the reticle changes as magnification is adjusted. This is because the magnification function within the riflescope magnifies the image/target before it gets to the reticle.

Simply stated, when utilizing a SFP reticle, its appearance never changes, but its relationship to the target does.

Again, when it comes to price, a second focal plane reticle will generally be less expensive than an FFP. Second focal plane optics are easier and cheaper to manufacture.

Additionally, more companies are currently manufacturing them (both within the United States and overseas), so SFP scopes tend to be well stocked and cheaper to the consumer.

Pros and Cons: SFV Scope

American shooters (particularly hunters) did not like using first focal plane reticles because the reticle grew with the target when zoomed in. Most hunters would argue that seeing a thin reticle superimposed over our target helps us aim with better precision. However, things began to change with the increased popularity of long-range shooting.

Early American-made sporting scopes used for shooting at longers distances offered additional aiming points positioned below the center of the reticle.

These aiming points are subtended to match the trajectory of specific cartridges or angular measurements like an MOA or MIL.

When using a second focal plane scope, the relationship size between the reticle and target/image changes when magnification is adjusted. These additional aiming points were calibrated to work only at maximum magnification.

FFP vs SFP - Which Rifle Scope is right for you

For most shooters and hunters, using a second focal plane reticle remains a solid choice, especially for shooting at distances where ballistic correction is not excessive.

A second focal plane reticle is a wise choice if you're shooting/hunting with a .223 Remington or .308 Winchester and never plan to shoot much past 400 yards.

However, if you plan to take your 6.5 Creedmoor to extreme distances (500 yards and beyond), perhaps a first focal plane reticle makes more sense. You can use the ballistic corrections that the reticle offers no matter the magnification your riflescope is set at.

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