A scope with variable magnification will have either a first focal plane (FFP) reticle or a second focal plane (SFP) reticle. The FFP vs SFP debate is a common one in gun circles, especially among long-range shooters and serious hunters. Which is best is largely a matter of personal opinion. Since we firmly believe knowledge is power, this article is designed to equip you with the information necessary to make your own decision about which style will best suit your shooting needs.
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What is a Reticle?
A reticle is the series of fine lines inside a riflescope (or other optical devices). There are virtually endless ways the lines can be configured, all of which are designed to help shooters make more precise shots on distant targets.
The most basic is the standard traditional crosshairs. Other variations include dots, posts, circles, horseshoes, and chevrons. Long-distance scopes often use detailed reticles with graduated markings that can be used to quickly and easily adjust for windage or bullet drop over distance.
FFP vs SFP Scopes – Understanding the Difference
A reticle is a physical object that is placed inside of a scope. Sometimes it is etched directly onto the glass. However, no matter how the reticle is constructed it has to be placed somewhere inside of the scope.
In an FFP scope, the reticle is positioned on the first focal plane, which means it is located in front of the magnification lenses. Just like anything else that is in front of the magnification lenses (like the target), the reticle in an FFP scope is also magnified.
As a result, the reticle appears to grow and shrink as you zoom in and out on the target using a variable power scope. That means the reticle maintains the same perspective in relation to the target no matter where you dial in the magnification. As a result, the subtensions are accurate through the entire magnification range.
The major disadvantage of an FFP scope is that the reticle becomes thinner and more difficult to see at the lower end of the magnification range. Also, at higher power, the reticle becomes thicker. A thicker reticle obscures more of the target, which can be problematic at longer ranges, especially when engaging smaller targets.
Another drawback to FFP scopes is the price. FFP scopes have a more complicated construction. Because they cost more to manufacture, companies typically pass the expense on to the consumer.
Advantages of an FFP Scope
- Finer hash marks for ranging and holdover.
- Minimal target coverage at higher magnification.
- Subtension remains constant across all magnification settings.
Disadvantages of an FFP Scope
- Expensive price tag.
- The reticle can be difficult to see at lower magnification.
- Tracking moving targets through dense cover can be tricky.
A second focal plane (SFP) scope has the reticle positioned closer to the shooter’s eye, behind the magnification lenses. Because the reticle is between the shooter’s eye and the magnification lenses, the reticle isn’t magnified. Instead, the size remains constant no matter where you dial in the magnification. In other words, the crosshairs and subtensions remain constant through the entire magnification range.
Because the markings on the reticle change perspective with the target depending on how much you zoom in, they are only correct at one power setting. However, you won’t have to struggle to see the marks at lower magnification, which makes SFP scopes a smarter option for shooters with poor eyesight.
Advantages of an SFP Scope
- More affordable than FFP scopes with comparable features.
- The reticle is easier to see at lower magnification.
- The size of markings doesn’t change, making them easier to see, especially in low light.
- Better for shooters with poor eyesight.
Disadvantages of an SFP Scope
- Subtensions are only accurate at a predetermined magnification level.
- Holdovers and ranging can be confusing at different power settings.
What Each Style Does Best
While many shooters sing the praises of FFP scopes because they seem fancier, more expensive, and more “advanced”, SFP scopes definitely have their place.
An FFP scope is most useful for precision long-range shooting, where the shooter regularly uses holdovers. They are also helpful in shooting situations where the exact range to the target might not be known.
Competition shooters, law enforcement and military snipers, and long-range hunters can all greatly benefit from a high-quality FFP optic. When it comes to hunting, an FFP scope can be a handicap in thick woods, but if you’re hunting open country (especially where shots could extend to 500 yards or beyond), it will quickly become your new best friend.
For close- to medium-range defensive shooting or applications where fast target acquisition and a speedy sight picture are paramount, an SFP scope may be the “better” option. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make precision long-range shots with an SFP scope. You’ll just need some extra time to dial elevation and windage turrets for optimum accuracy.
Once you understand the differences between first focal plane and second focal plane scopes, deciding on what will work best for you becomes a lot less confusing. It’s also important to remember that which focal plane the reticle is located on is only one thing to consider when purchasing a new optic. There are other crucial characteristics that affect how the scope will perform in the field, including magnification range, glass quality, and the actual style of the reticle.