First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane: What’s the Big Difference?

Understanding focal planes in a rifle scope can be confusing, but not impossible to understand. There are two types of focal planes, one is the first focal plane and the other is the second focal plane. 

In this guide, we break down the differences between the first focal plane (FFP) and the second focal plane (SFP), the pros and cons of each, and what range they work best in.

What’s the Difference: First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane?

The main difference between the first focal plane and the second focal plane is how the image is seen at various magnifications. 

When the magnification is adjusted, a first focal plane reticle zooms in and out whereas the crosshairs of the second focal plane remain steady, in the same size and position.

A first focal plane scope and a second focal plane scope also differ in their position of the reticle within the rifle scope – i.e an FFP reticle is placed under the elevation turrets whereas an SFP reticle is fitted at the scope eyepiece. This is why the magnification varies.

All You Need to Know About the First Focal Plane

Hunting rifle with scope and bipod

On the first focal plane, the reticle is located away from the eyes, which helps to sight a target by increasing the magnification or decreasing the magnification to ‘shrink’ the reticle for precise targeting.

First focal plane scopes work best when you’re shooting at different ranges, as they allow the freedom to aim at longer ranges from various points with precision and the ability to pinpoint the target for a single shot.

If you’re working at a constant shooting distance, the first focal plane scope may not offer much benefit except the accuracy and precision of shooting at the target. 

What is the Advantage of a First Focal Plane?

The first focal plane is engineered to perform better than any other reticle position of the rifle scope. It has many benefits, including:

  • The reticle size is changed to correspond with the magnification power. The higher the magnification, the larger the reticle and vice versa. This helps hunters target big game at long ranges with better precision.
  • The MOA value remains the same no matter how high or low powered the magnification of the first focal plane scope is. It allows rifle shooters to quickly execute shots at a far-away target without missing impact.
  • It is perfect for long-range shooting. Military riflemen use the first focal plane to sight a target at a broader range, aim at it from multiple points and if missed, be able to quickly hold over and trigger the shot again.
  • The bullet trajectories are accurate from the first focal plane and do not require calculations of the compensation for bullet drop.
  • First focal plane scopes are engineered to perform their best, and this includes their construction. They last longer, don’t add much heft to the rifle, and can be carried easily with the whole weaponry.

What is the Disadvantage of a First Focal Plane?

The first focal plane scope, although the best for multiple-aim shooting, has a few disadvantages which may be a dealbreaker for some rifle shooters.

One, a first focal plane scope is expensive. It is complicated to construct and requires a high level of engineering to be able to provide an accurate position of the target. It is found mostly in high-end military snipers and rifles as they need to make a quick holdover and execute shots effortlessly.

Secondly, at the highest magnification setting, the reticle may grow so thick that it may not be able to detect a nearby smaller target, like a squirrel or a rabbit.

All You Need to Know About the Second Focal Plane

Rifle and Scope with Bull Moose

The second focal plane scope allows hunters to accurately sight a target at a consistent range and work the rifle almost as a fixed-power scope.

The position of the SFP reticle at the eyepiece of the scope means that increasing or decreasing the magnification won’t affect the size and position of the crosshairs.

It works best with rifles that shoot at close ranges because of the high-powered reticle and its position at the hunter’s eye level which provides a great field of vision.

What is the Advantage of a Second Focal Plane?

The second focal plane scopes are quite underrated but they have a few benefits that rank better than the first focal plane scopes.

  • The reticle size does not change at the highest or lowest magnification so targets in close range can be spotted easily. The field of vision is narrowed to perfection.
  • Second focal planes are lightweight which reduces the chance of the scope wounding the eye if the rifle recoils after pressing the trigger.
  • They offer impressive resolution and are designed to perform at a close range and with a consistent aim, so the hunting field is in clear view, even at the lowest magnification.
  • Second focal planes are cost-effective because they are not as complicated to construct, they are simple to use, and they work well with decent rifles and snipers.
  • Defensive shooting is always a success with a second focal plane as low magnification does not affect the resolution, shots can be executed quickly so small game like rabbits or squirrels can be hunted easily.
  • Second focal planes are great for beginners to get a hold of how far a bullet can be aimed or what fields it’d work well at.

What is the Disadvantage of a Second Focal Plane?

Second focal plane scopes, also known as rear focal planes, are inexpensive and easy to use, but these benefits that set SFPs apart also position the second focal plane at a slight disadvantage.

Since the crosshairs do not change in position or size when the magnification is altered, the hunter has to calculate the expected or performed trajectory of the bullet at various magnification settings. 

It also does not allow a quick holdover, unless the second focal plane is at the highest magnification setting and the MOA value remains the same whether zoomed in or out.

Which Focal Plane is Best for Long-Range Shooting?

The first focal plane is recommended for long-range shooting because it is precise in its target, allows a quick holdover, and hunters can quickly shoot and redo their aim in case the target is missed or spooked.

Also, the hash marks of MOA in the first focal plane are the same at all magnification settings, unlike in the second focal plane, which helps improve the accuracy of shots, bullet trajectory, and targeting multiple aims.

Long-range precision shooting is an expert’s sport, which is why first focal plane scopes are generally found in higher-end rifles, military snipers, and law enforcement weapons.

Which Focal Plane is Best for Close-Range Shooting?

man holding rifle for close shooting

The second focal plane scope is recommended for close-range shooting as it allows precise shots at a consistent distance. 

As the reticle remains unchanged when the magnification is increased or decreased, the lowest power setting performs as well as the highest power setting. 

This means that at the lowest magnification, the reticle will still be able to spot a nearby small target such as a crow, beaver, or squirrel.

They are available in most rifle scopes and recommended to novice shooters for an easy starting point to learn the ropes of sighting a target, holdovers, shooting game, and the different bullet trajectories.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do snipers use the first focal plane or the second focal plane?

Snipers generally use first focal plane scopes as they are best for long-range shooting. Also, they allow precise magnification for rapid shots. Some snipers may use a second focal plane to change the magnification of the reticle and the target.

Are military scopes first or second focal planes?

They are generally first focal plane scopes as military shooters hunt with a greater field of vision and power their optics at the lowest power setting and reduced magnification. Also, they have a Mil/MOA reticle attached for an improved hold-off shoot.

Why are first focal plane scopes more expensive?

First focal planes require a technical expert’s hand to engineer them. Also, they are generally mounted on top of high-end scopes and used for long-range shooting so the accuracy of magnification is a must. This is why first focal planes can be more expensive.

Summary

Rifle scopes are high-maintenance and, therefore, knowing the details of their technical gear, like the difference between the first focal plane and the second focal plane, can assist hunters and rifle shooters to more effectively use their weapons and hunt their targets successfully. 

Now that you know the pros and cons of each focal plane and what they are used for, the hunting field is your oyster!

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