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

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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.

Whether you’re buying a hunting scope or one for precision rifle shooting, it’s wise to know the difference.

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 at what ranges they work best.

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

The main difference for most shooters 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.

This happens because a first focal plane scope and a second focal plane scope differ in the position of the reticle within the rifle scope.

An FFP reticle is placed under the elevation turrets, in front of the zoom mechanism. This is why the reticle image doesn’t change when you zoom in or out.

On the other hand, an SFP reticle is fitted beyond the zoom mechanism, at the scope eyepiece. This is why the magnification affects the reticle alongside your view.

All You Need to Know About the First Focal Plane

On the first focal plane, the reticle is effectively located on your target.

This helps shooters to range a target by increasing the magnification or decreasing the magnification to shrink or expand the reticle for precise targeting depending on your current shooting conditions.

In other words, if you have to zoom from 12x to 3x to clearly see through haze or because your target is too close to be visible at 12x, you’ll still be able to use your reticle’s hash marks to estimate the target’s size and distance.

First focal plane scopes work best when you’re shooting at a variety of different ranges or against targets at unknown ranges. They allow the freedom to aim at any magnification.

If you’re working at a constant shooting distance, the first focal plane scope may not offer much benefit.

And that reticle’s lines may be too small to effectively observe in low-light conditions.

First Focal Plane Larger Reticle Crosshairs Example Illustrated
Note how the reticle’s hashes stay the same size relative to the deer

What is the Advantage of a First Focal Plane?

The first focal plane is engineered to perform well at any magnification level.

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 range their target at any distance.
  • The MOA value of the reticle’s hash marks remain the same no matter how high or low powered the magnification of an FFP scope. It allows rifle shooters to quickly swap from close to distant targets.
  • The bullet drop compensation feature of the reticle is accurate at all ranges and does not require you to perform mental calculations to compensate for various distances.
  • First focal plane scopes are often engineered and built to a higher standard than second focal plane scopes because the mechanism itself requires higher precision to build properly.

What is the Disadvantage of a First Focal Plane?

The FFP scopes, although great for multiple-distance shooting, have a few disadvantages which may be dealbreakers 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 image at all magnifications1.

Secondly, at the highest magnification setting, the reticle may grow so thick that it may obscure finer details, so it may not be good for hunting in dense foliage or aiming at smaller animals such as squirrels.

Finally, the reticle’s lines can become quite thin at lower magnifications.

This can be particularly disadvantageous to hunters who stalk their prey in areas with thick vegetation as you’ll lose the ability to perceive the reticle amongst all those branches and leaves.

All You Need to Know About the Second Focal Plane

Second focal plane scopes allow hunters to enjoy a consistent reticle size regardless of their magnification level.

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

This means it won’t become too thick at maximum magnification and won’t become too thin at minimum magnification.

SFP scopes work great when are hunting in areas with dense foliage because you won’t lose the reticle if you need to lower the magnification level.

However, this does mean that the reticle’s hash marks can only be used for size or distance estimation at a specific magnification, typically the scope’s maximum.

If you do the math (or spend time at the range practicing holdovers) then you can learn your holdovers at the other magnification levels, but it won’t be as intuitive as with an FFP scope.

It’s also simpler to manufacture SFP scopes, so you can enjoy a high-quality optic at a lower price point.

Second Focal Plane Deer Hunting Example Reticle Does Not Zoom
Note how increasing the magnification does not change the reticle’s size

What is the Advantage of a Second Focal Plane?

Second focal plane scopes are quite underrated but they have a few benefits that put them above FFP scopes for many people:

  • The reticle size does not change between magnification levels so you won’t lose the reticle at lower zoom levels.
  • Second focal planes are lightweight, which helps reduce your fatigue in the field.
  • Second focal planes are cost-effective because they are not as complicated to construct as FFP scopes.

What is the Disadvantage of a Second Focal Plane?

Second focal plane scopes are inexpensive and easy to use, but these benefits that set SFP scopess apart also position this design at a slight disadvantage.

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

This means using a ballistic calculator and cross referencing the results while at the shooting range while zeroing your scope.

This means that it’s much harder to perform snap shots when at any magnification level except maximum and can slow down your ability to estimate a target’s distance.

Which Focal Plane is Best for Long-Range Shooting?

The first focal plane is recommended for long-range shooting because it is precise at all magnifications, allows a quick holdover shot, and hunters can quickly adjust their aim if they miss their first shot.

Since the reticle changes in size to match the magnification level, FFP scopes are great when you’re hunting at longer ranges.

They’re also great when engaged in shooting competitions against targets at a variety of ranges such as PRS.

Second focal plane scopes are more than good enough for long-range shooting against targets at a specific, known range, though.

So, if you spend most of your time at the range and prefer ringing steel at 600 yards, a SFP scope is more than good enough. And you can use the saved money to buy more ammo!

Which Focal Plane is Best for Close-Range Shooting?

If you’re hunting at short range then a second focal plane scope is a great choice.

Holdover shots are less important at short ranges. Being able to discern your target is more important, which is a big advantage when you have a consistent crosshair size.

FFP scopes can work well at short ranges too, though they will be a disadvantage it you’re hunting at dawn or dusk.

If you’re practicing a run’n’gun discipline such as 3 Gun, then a FFP scope will work better for those short-range shots than a SFP scope.


Good rifle scopes are expensive investments.

Therefore, knowing the difference between first focal plane and second focal plane scopes can help hunters, target shooters, and survivalists choose the best scope for their task.

FFP scopes have a high reputation but are also expensive.

But does every hunter need an FFP scope? Nope!

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


Are Military Scopes First or Second Focal Plane Scopes?

Most military scopes, such as the Trijicon AccuPoint, are first focal plane scopes because these scopes make it easy to fire quick shots at targets at various ranges.

Why Are First Focal Plane Scopes More Expensive than Second Focal Plane Scopes?

FFP scopes have to be accurate at all magnifications, which increases the amount of engineering to produce the scope.

This also increases the amount of precision required when manufacturing the scope, increasing the final cost.

Do Snipers Use First Focal Plane Scopes?

Many snipers use first focal plane scopes, such as the Leupold Mark 5HD2.




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