What’s First vs. Second Focal Plane?

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What’s First vs. Second Focal Plane?

December 21st, 2019

2 minute read

Today I’m going to explain one of the more confusing aspects of scopes for a lot of shooters — first focal plane (FFP) versus second focal plane (SFP). I’m going to explain what you need to know about this subject, including:

  • What they are
  • Pros and cons
  • Which one you should choose

So, if you’re looking to understand the difference between these two planes, this article is for you. Let’s get started.

First Focal Plane

In a first focal plane scope, the reticle is placed in front of the magnification lens. As a result, when magnification is changed, the reticle’s size changes with it. Here’s an example:

The benefit of using an FFP scope is that the subtension values are consistent throughout all magnification ranges. For example, when I’m out performing long-range target shooting with my M1A chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, I don’t need to calculate the holdover points. This makes it super easy for long-range shooters and hunters to land accurate shots.

However, there are two snags:

First, the reticle could look small and thin at lower magnifications, while large and thick at higher magnifications. This could be a bit problematic when trying to see your target. Second, FFP scopes are generally more expensive than SFP scopes.

Second Focal Plane

In a second focal plane scope, the reticle is placed behind the magnification lens. As a result, when magnification is changed, the reticle’s size remains the same. Here’s an example:

The benefit of using an SFP scope is that you have a strong and easy-to-see reticle at all magnifications. And it’s generally cheaper than an FFP scope.

However, there’s a trade-off:

You can’t leave your calculator at home anymore. Let me explain…

With an SFP scope, spacing for holdover is only correct at one magnification (usually the highest). That means, if you shoot any less than the highest magnification, you’re going to have to pull out a calculator and start calculating the spacing for each power setting. This could get a bit complicated and confusing.

The type of focal plane scope you select will be affected by your budget and shooting needs.

Which should I use?

Here’s the straight-up answer:

Are you into competitive or long-range shooting? Opt-in for a first focal plane scope.

Otherwise, get a second focal plane scope. It’s cheaper and more popular, and the reticle is easy-to-see at all magnifications.

At the end of the day, it’s your call on whether FFP or SFP scopes are better for you. If you’re still unsure, just try both of them out and stick with the one that works best for you, your budget, and your shooting applications.

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared in various large publications including The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, SOFREP, and more. In his free time, he reviews various optics and guns on his Scopes Field blog.

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