Scopes

FFP vs SFP – Which Focal Plane Is Best?

If you’re an avid shooter, you’ve probably heard of FFP and SFP scopes. But which one is better for you? Choosing the wrong scope can significantly impact your ability to shoot consistently. In this post, we’ll break down the differences between FFP vs SFP scopes and help you decide which one is right for your specific needs.


What’s The Difference: SFP vs FFP

comparing reticles of first focal plane vs second focal plane scopes

Many shooters do not know the difference between SFP & FFP scopes. After all, you can’t even tell the difference just by looking at the scope. Here are the main differences:

  • Second Focal Plane Scope (SFP) – The reticle is placed behind the magnification lens. The reticle stays the same size regardless of the magnification setting. This SFP is also called the rear focal plane.
  • First Focal Plane Scope (FFP) – The reticle is placed at the front of the scope. The scope’s reticle size is correlated to the magnification.

Takeaway: FFP scopes have a reticle that changes with the scope’s magnification. SFP scopes have a reticle that stays the same size.


What Is SFP On A Rife Scope

SFP on a rifle scope stands for ‘second focal plane‘. The reticle is installed behind the magnifying lens. As you increase or decrease the scopes magnification, the actual reticle remains the exact same size.

Reticle stays the same size throughout the entire magnification range.

However, the reticle or crosshairs will appear to grow in size in relation to your target. This condition is referred to as scope subtension.

Pros & Cons – SFP Scope

Here are some of the pros to using a second focal plane scope.

  • Reticle Visibility – The reticle maintains visibility at almost all power settings.
  • Price – SFP models are typically cheaper than FFP scopes.
  • Less Target Obstruction – When zoomed in to max magnification, SFP scopes obstruct less of the overall target.

Here are a few cons to using a second focal plane reticle.

  • Changing Subtension – Modifying the zoom changes the subtension of the scope. This can be a problem if you need to make quick adjustments in the field.
  • Poor Long Range Performance – SFP scopes tend to be less effective at long range than FFP scopes.
  • Holdover Points – Usually only accurate at max power.

What Is FFP On A Rife Scope

picture showing the reticles of first focal plane rifle scopes

FFP on a rifle scope stands for ‘first focal plane’. Shocker right? On an FFP scope, the reticle is installed before the magnifying lens which is much closer to the shooter’s eye.

Reticle size changes in relation to the magnification setting.

This means that the reticle will get smaller as you zoom in and get larger as you zoom out. This technology creates a constant subtension. In other words, the reticle or crosshairs takes up the same amount of space relative to the target regardless of the magnification.

Pros & Cons – FFP Scope

Here are some of the main benefits of using a first focal plane reticle.

  • Constant Subtension – The relationship between the size of the target and the size of the crosshair remains constant, regardless of magnification.
  • Better In Low Light – FFP scopes tend to be better at light-gathering.
  • Accurate From Long Range – The reticle is placed in the front of the scope making it better at high magnifications.

Here are some of the drawbacks of using first focal plane scopes.

  • Low Power Visibility – FFP scopes have poor reticle visibility at low power.
  • Expensive – On average, they cost more than SFP scopes.
  • Target Obstruction – Reticles can obstruct small targets during max magnification.

When Is An SFP Scope Best

Second focal plane scopes are best for two main situations:

  1. Lower magnification shooting
  2. Shooters on a budget

For hunters or avid shooters that mainly fire from lower magnification settings, SFP scopes are the best bet. They will obstruct less of your target and allow you to shoot quickly and accurately from a closer range. SFP scopes are also cheaper which makes them great for budget-conscious shooters.

When Is An FFP Scope Best

When comparing between first focal plane vs second focal plane scopes it depends on the shooter’s specific use case. If you will be long-range shooting on high magnification, an FFP scope is the way to go. On average, the FFP scope will be more accurate across all distances because it can maintain constant subtension.


Choosing Between SFP vs FFP

There is no specific scope that works best for everyone. Your specific weapon and shooting conditions will determine whether or not you should choose an SFP or FFP scope.

1) Hunting

If you’re a hunter, then you already know that choosing the correct scope is critical. Most hunters will shoot their game using low magnification scopes. For this reason, hunters primarily go with a second focal plane scope. A front focal plane scope will obstruct too much target and surrounding environment. If you’re a hunter, check out the Best Scopes for Elk Hunting!

Takeaway: Second focal plane scope

2) Target Shooting

Depending on how far your targets are, both SFP & FFP scopes will work. In reality, there are not many ranges where you can take 800-yard shots. This means SFP scopes will be best for most people. Unless of course, you own a 100-acre ranch with your own personal shooting range! Check out The Best Scopes for Henry Big Boy 44 Magnum!

Takeaway: Second focal plane scope

3) Long Range Shooting

With FFP scopes, the reticle grows and shrinks along with your target. This is beneficial for long-range shooters because it allows you to make holdovers and windage adjustments on the fly. First focal plane scopes also offer greater clarity at higher magnifications, making them ideal for long-range shooting. Check out the best scope for 22lr long range shooting if you’re looking for a scope of your own!

Takeaway: First focal plane scope

4) AR-15

it depends on your intended use. If you plan to use your rifle for long-range shooting, then an FFP scope is a better option. The reason for this is that FFP scopes offer more consistent performance at different magnifications. On the other hand, if you’ll mostly be using your AR-15 for close-range shooting, then an SFP scope may be a better fit.

In reality, not many of us will be using our AR-15 for 10-12x magnification shots. Therefore, SFP scopes are the way to go for most people. Check out our post on the Best Scopes For AR-15 with Fixed Front Sights.

Takeaway: Both can work


FAQs – Focal Plane Scopes

Do military snipers use FFP or SFP scopes?

Most snipers choose to use front focal plane scopes because they allow the user to more accurately measure their range to the target. Many military combat engagements take place from long ranges. Generally speaking, a first focal plane scope is better for these types of high-magnification shots.

What is better for hunting FFP or SFP?

Hunters use both first focal plane & second focal plane scopes. It really depends on your specific needs & shooting distances. If you plan on taking high magnification shots from long range, the first focal plane (FFP) scope is the way to go. However, second focal plane scopes are better for lower magnification shots. Let your magnification range determine which scope you choose to hunt with.

What is the advantage of a second focal plane scope?

A second focal plane scope has the advantage that the reticle remains the same size as you adjust magnification. This is important because it means that you can use the reticle as a reference to measure distances and make adjustments to your aim without having to compensate for changes in magnification. However, most snipers today use front focal plane scopes.

What is focal point and focal plane?

A focal point is a point on the axis of a lens or mirror to which parallel rays of light converge. This point is where the image is formed. A focal plane is perpendicular to the optical axis and contains the focal point of an image.

What magnification do snipers use?

There is no single magnification used by all snipers. However, 10x magnification is considered standard among snipers. This allows them to hit shots consistently from 250-1000 yards. If you plan to shoot from long distances, check out our post on the Best Spotter Scopes for 1000 Yards. Snipers frequently use first focal plane scopes when operating on a higher magnification setting.


The Bottom Line

Now you know the difference between FFP and SFP scopes. The truth is…there is no ‘best scope’. It really depends on your specific use case. If you are looking for an accurate scope to shoot at high magnification, go with FFP. Otherwise, consider trying an SFP scope for your rifle. Let us know which scope type you ended up choosing!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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