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Rifle Scopes: First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane

Rifle Scopes: First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane

If it’s First it Follows, If it’s Second it Stays

A rifle scope’s reticle is placed in either the first focal plane (FFP) or the second focal plane (SFP). The main difference between the two options is how the reticle behaves when adjusting the scope’s magnification. A FFP rifle scope has a variable size reticle, while a SFP rifle scope will have a static reticle at all magnifications. There are advantages and disadvantages to either option.

First Focal Plane

Example of what you see through a first focal plane riflescope.

First focal plane rifle scopes are commonly preferred by long range target shooters. When adjusting magnification on a FFP rifle scope, the reticle your eye sees will change in size, becoming increasingly larger as magnification increases. What this means is; your units of measure per each hash mark, MOA or Mil, represent the same value regardless of the current magnification setting.

Example: a rifle scope with hash marks representing .25 MOA across the horizontal line will represent .25 MOA at all magnification levels. 

First focal plane rifle scopes are starting to gain popularity with hunters who find themselves shooting their intended targets at longer distances. Knowing the hash marks represent the same value in all scenarios is an advantage in terms of speed. Speed, however, comes at a cost; the differing sizing of the reticle may be too large at certain distances coupled with magnification and can make shot placement trickier and inversely it’s also possible for the reticle to be too small. Luckily, in those scenarios, an illuminated reticle may relieve some of that pain.

Second Focal Plane

Second focal plane has been a commonly used reticle position by hunters for years. SFP is how most people expect a rifle scope’s reticle to behave, rightly so, we’ve all generally grew up looking through these scopes. The reticle stays the same size at all magnification levels which makes it easier to see at all ranges but comes at a price.

Considering the reticle isn’t variable in size, that means the hash marks on the reticle are variable in what they represent. Almost all rifle scopes default to the hashes being truly represented a full magnification, although it would be wise to double-check.

Example: Leupold’s Mark 5 HD 3.6-18x44 a second focal plane rifle scope with a magnification range of 3.6-18x, has hash marks representing 1 MOA. This is only true at its full magnification, 18x. 

When the rifle scope is not at full magnification, the hash marks represent different values relative to the magnification. For example, in the above Mark 5 HD, full magnification represents 1 MOA. At half of that magnification, 7.2x, the hash marks represent double the default value; 2 MOA.

This poses an added challenge to taking a shot when you factor in having to do a bit of mental math when using hold-over hash marks. 

Which one is right for me?

So, how do you choose the right rifle scope? In reality, it all comes down to preference and what style of hunting you’re finding yourself in more often. First focal plane rifle scopes are advantageous when shooting long distance where quick follow-up shots using hold-over are more likely. They are disadvantageous when you find yourself in closer ranges in dark timer considering it’s very easy to lose the smaller and thinner reticle lines against dark backgrounds.

Second focal plane rifle scopes are useful for visibility throughout all magnification ranges and when paired with a ballistics turret allow you to center punch regardless of the magnification. 

If you’re having trouble pulling the trigger on a first focal plane or second focal plane rifle scope, our team at the Outdoorsmans is dedicated to finding the perfect match for you. We’ll take the time to consider your budget, hunting style, and the terrain you commonly find yourself, and we'll marry you with a rifle scope you’ll be proud to own. Email us at or call us at 1-800-291-8065 to get started!

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