Ammo & Gear Reviews

Understanding First Vs Second Focal Plane

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Guns and Gear Contributor
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By Simon Cuthbert, Target Tamers

Are you confused with the FFP Vs SFP concept?

Is it true that that only one type of reticle is good for hunting or long-range shooting?

Does one reticle style cost more than the other?

We’ll clear up the confusion on what FFP and SFP really means for you out in the field or at the target range right here, and how it will affect your next purchase decision.

Differences Between FFP & SFP Reticles

As a starting point, an FFP (First Focal Plane)/SFP (Second Focal Plane) reticle isn’t a special type of crosshair, pattern, or reticle design in and of itself.  Essentially, it’s just a determination of where the reticle is placed in the rifle scope.

This location determines whether your scope has an First Focal Plane (FFP) or Second Focal Plane (SFP) reticle and the resulting advantages or disadvantages of this placement.

An FFP reticle is placed towards the front end of the scope in between the magnifying lens and objective lens assemblies.  This is why it’s called a First or Front focal plane reticle.  This location allows you to look through the scope and increase or decrease magnification to see crosshairs simultaneously increase and decrease in size.

An SFP reticle is placed towards the rear end of the scope in between the eyepiece/focus lens and magnifying lens assemblies.  This is why it’s called a Second or Rear focal plane reticle.  When you look through the scope, crosshairs will remain the same size regardless of any magnification changes you make.

Pros & Cons Of First Focal Plane Reticles

Having the ability to see more of your reticle and holdover points on an enlarged target area is desirable by both hunters and long-range shooters of all kinds.  What are FFP scope advantages?

  • BDC reticles accurate at all magnification settings
  • Increased crosshairs with increased target image
  • Easily visible crosshairs at high magnification
  • FFP reticles often seen in higher quality scopes
  • Subtension remains constant at all magnification settings

What Is Reticle Subtension?

We get into detail about it our complete reticle guide here, but for a quick explanation, it’s the measured space crosshairs take up on a target at a given magnification.  With FFP, the crosshairs and target image simultaneously increase and decrease in size as you change magnification.  As a result, subtension remains constant.

Because subtension remains the same throughout the entire power range, you can use your reticle for holdovers accurately at any magnification you choose.  This makes keeping a pet or favorite magnification setting (that isn’t necessarily max magnification) a convenient advantage for shooters who utilize a BDC-style reticle.

What’s The downside?

At low magnification when the target image is small, the reticle can also be small and thin – too small and thin to utilize in adverse light conditions like low light.  It’s also a premium feature that you can almost always expect to pay more for.  Why?  It requires specialized manufacturing that often goes hand in hand with other components that makes a good scope justifiably expensive.

  • Costs more than SFP
  • Reticle too small/thin at low power
  • Difficult to see in low light at low power

Pros & Cons of Second Focal Plane Reticles

SFP is by far the more common type of reticle seen in a rifle scope today.  They remain easily visible at low magnification, there is no change to crosshair size – ever, and they’re cheaper than FFP scopes.

What are SFP scope advantages?

  • Easily visible crosshairs at all magnifications
  • More affordable than FFP
  • Easily visible in adverse light conditions
  • No change to crosshair size
  • High performance in low magnification

What’s the downside?

If you plan on using a highly complicated BDC reticle, SFP may not be visible enough to utilize at high magnification if you can’t quickly or accurately see miniature holdover points.

Additionally, as subtension changes when you change magnification, you can only use your BDC reticle at maximum magnification.  You’re restricted to cranking up the power if you plan on accurately holding over with your reticle.  However, if you dial it in or do all your shooting at max magnification, an SFP reticle will suit you just fine.

  • May be difficult to see complicated BDC reticles at max magnification
  • Can only accurately use BDC reticles at max magnification

First Or Second Focal Plane For Long Range Shooting

Long-range shooting can mean lying prone or bench-rest at the range or taking a long shot in the hunt.  Either way, you must consider your scope and shooting style.  Are you dialing it in most of the time, are you using a BDC-style reticle, and how far do you consider long range?

If you plan on always using max magnification for medium to long-range shots, an SFP reticle will get the job done.  Outside of using max magnification, you’ll have to memorize the adjustments needed to make long-range shots, and this can be too slow and inconvenient for certain applications like hunting.

If you want the flexibility of using your reticle for medium to long-range shots at any magnification, FFP scopes are the obvious choice.  You can maximize reticle use without having to dial it in and make adjustments depending on the reticle/crosshair design.  The higher price tag for an FFP scope in this application is worth it for the accuracy expected.

First Focal Plane Vs Second Focal Plane For Hunting

Many hunters swear by their SFP scopes for getting it done in the field.  Most distances that hunters are taking down their prey is right within the high-performing range of an SFP scope – well under 400 yards with low power at low light.

Some with poor eyesight prefer the large and highly visible crosshairs of an SFP scope, and the affordable price tag is undoubtedly attractive.

Not surprisingly, FFP scopes are also gaining popularity in the hunt as it allows you to reach out further without having to dial it in.  But, on small targets at faraway distances, the larger crosshairs may cover up too much of the target, and yet it might work perfectly well for big game.

You must consider what your comfort level and needs are for your type of hunting terrain, use of magnification range, and reticle or turret preferences.

Which Is Best For You?

Don’t be intimidated by the tech-sounding jargon.  What it all comes down to is what reticle type allows you to hit the target every time.  It might mean spending a little bit more and having the ability to shoot accurately out to various distances at a magnification you feel comfortable with in the given moment.

You might want to save yourself a few bucks if you rarely have the need to make extended shots, and when you do, it’s nothing that cranking up to max power can’t solve.

Though, beyond FFP and SFP reticles, you’ll need to consider what type of reticle is best suited for your shooting application.  Is it a BDC, simple duplex, illuminated, or a ballistic turret system that will maximize your success out in the field?

Picking between FFP and SFP is just one part of the equation in buying a rifle scope, but it’s one significant feature that can make all the difference in your shooting experience.  Here is some additional advice to help you choose a rifle scope best suited to you.

Simon Cuthbert is the owner of editor of

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