FFP vs SFP

First Focal Plane Vs Second Focal Plane How to choose

First focal plane, (also known as FFP). And Second focal plane, (also known as SFP). Are one of those terms that not every shooter knows what they mean. Even though every single scope fitted to a firearm is either an FFP or SFP type. In this article, I will explain what each term means and why you should choose one type over another type.

FFP vs SFP what’s the difference?

Inside any scope, there are two focal planes. The reticle will be imprinted on either one of the focal planes. The front focal plane is located closest to the objective lens and the second focal plane closest to the back of the scope. The second focal plane can also be called the “Rear Focal plane”. 

Scope internal lay out of lenses
Image Courtesy of Leupold optics

In between the two focal planes is what is called the erector system. The erector system is connected via a tube to the power selector ring on the scope. When the power selector ring is rotated the magnification is changed by moving the erector elements.

Depending on what focal plane the reticle is on will affect how it reacts to changes in magnification.

First Focal Plane Reticle

A first focal plane, (Also known as the Front Focal Plane, or FFP for short), reticle means that the reticle is imprinted on the front focal plane. It also means that the reticle will change with the power selector ring moving. As the magnification increases the reticle will appear to grow bigger with it. As the magnification reduces the reticle will shrink. This is also a great way to tell what type of scope you have.

Front Focal plane zoomed out and zoomed in.
The reticle on the left is when the scope is at minimum magnification. The reticle on the right is at maximum magnification. Note how much bigger and easier the reticle is to see and use at maximum power settings.

FFP scopes will typically have calibrated reticles like a Mil-dot or some kind of tactical milling reticle. Reticles can be graduated in either MIL or MOA formats. The reason that they imprint them on the front focal plane is so that the graduations will measure the same size consistently no matter the magnification.

Leupold TMR reticle FFP vs SFP scopes
Leupold TMR, (Tactical Milling Reticle), This reticle allows the shooter to make accurate hold overs and wind or moving target corrections. This reticle is used in the front focal plane scopes.

This means that a 1 MIL or 1 MOA graduation at the target will measure the same distance whether the power selector ring is on 5X or 25X

Advantages of a FFP Scope

The biggest advantage of a first focal plane scope is that it can accurately measure your target. No matter the magnification setting. This is very important when using the scope to make a range estimation. It is also used to calculate leads for moving targets or wind holds to account for the crosswind. Most tactical and military scopes are first focal plane scopes.

FFP vs SFP
AR 10 Set up with a Leupold FFP scope. This scope is the leupold LRP, Long Range Precision scope using the TMR reticle.

Disadvantages of the FFP Scope

When an FFP scope is set to a low magnification setting it can be hard to see the reticle. This is because when using a low magnification setting the reticle will get smaller. This can make the graduations appear clustered together and can also obscure a small target. Setting to a higher magnification will make the reticle clearer. However, the field of view will be smaller.

Front focal plane scopes will tend to be more expensive than second focal plane scopes. Since price is always a factor in scope choice it can mean that they may not be affordable for some shooters.

Great Value for money, We use this scope
Vortex Optics Diamondback Tactical First Focal Plane Riflescope
$349 to $549.00

Vortex diamondback scopes are a very affordable Front Focal plane line of scopes. They are available in both MOA and MRAD reticles with matching turrets. They are also available in multiple sizes 4-16 x 44 and 6-24 x 50

Compare at Optics planet Compare at Amazon
Prices correct at the time of publishing

Second Focal Plane Scopes

A reticle imprinted on the second focal plane, (Rear Focal plane), will always remain the same size. This means that no matter the power setting the reticle will look the same. This is also a good way to confirm what type of scope you have.

Second focal plane scopes can use several different types of reticles. However, if using a graduated reticle like a MIL dot or TMR it can only be used for measurement at a particular power setting. Depending on the scope manufacturer this setting can vary.

SFP plane vs min and max magnifications
When using a SFP plane scope the reticle will remain the same size. In the picture above the notice how the target will grow bigger, but the reticle will remain the same size as the magnification is increased.

Advantages of a SFP scope

Rear focal plane scopes are great for closer range targets. An SFP scope allows for a larger field of view. This will make for a faster and easier quick shot at close range. The fact that the reticle remains the same size no matter the magnification will mean that the target will be easier to see at all magnifications.

Second focal plane scopes are usually cheaper than front focal plane scopes. This can mean that they are a better choice for someone with a limited budget.

Lever action Rifle with second focal plane scope
Lever action rifles are a great choice for a SFP scope.

Disadvantages of a SFP scope

The biggest drawback of an SFP scope is that a tactical reticle can only be effective at one magnification. This will be more of an issue when taking longer shots or when using the scope to estimate range to a target. By selecting the incorrect power, it can be easy to make a mistake when ranging. This mistake can result in a missed shot due to not enough or too much holdover. It will also make wind holds and corrections much harder. 

Not all manufacturers use the same standards for when the reticle is considered accurate for measuring with switching scopes can also result in mistakes.

Which is the best FFP vs SFP

Choosing the best type of scope is going to depend on its intended use. Just because a scope is an FFP or SFP scope does not mean that one is better than the other. If the intended use is more for long-range shooting, then an FFP is going to be a better choice. A second focal plane scope will be work better with a short-range quick shooting rifle.

When comes to choosing a scope there are no right or wrong choices. Just make sure that you understand which type of scope you are buying. And that you understand fully how to use it. My advice is to always invest a little more in your optics than in the gun. A good optic can always move to a better rifle. When it comes to resale values on scopes, they are often not great. Trying to sell a lower quality scope can prove to be quite hard and the return on investment quite low.

Second Focal Plane Scope
Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm Side Focus Riflescope
$999 to $1699

Leupold VX-5HD series of riflescopes are available in 11 different reticles. Scopes are available in MOA and MRAD calibrations. Leupold is a high-end scope manufacturer that builds a quality product.

Compare at Optics Planet Compare at Amazon
Prices correct at the time of publishing

So, make sure to buy the right type of scope for your intended application and buy the best you can afford.

Stay safe and shoot often

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2 Responses

  1. Excellent read! I much better understand front or first vs. second focal “PLANE”. Easily understand now how the imprint on the reticle adjusts with magnification. Also better understand why an SFP scope may be better for an SBR for use at 100yds +/- . Would that be correct thinking?
    Price points on advertised optics sit right. T..

    1. Terry,
      Yes if you want to use an optic versus a dot sight then I would use a fixed power type of SFP scope. That way you can keep the price down, but still, be able to shoot out to 300 yards or so with the short barrel.

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