How To Choose: First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane thumbnail image

How To Choose: First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane

5D Tactical - 6th May 2021

We’ve been talking about optics a good amount as of late but if you’re serious about getting a LPVO (low powered variable optic) then you’ll also have to consider which focal plane you prefer more. There is no “better” between the two, that would be like comparing apples to oranges. It’s simply a matter of preference and intended use, which of course, is subjective.

optic focal plane figure

First Focal Plane

“FFP,” or first focal plane, scopes are also referred to as the front focal plane. The reason for this is that the reticle is physically placed on the first focal plane within a scope, or the plane that is furthest from your eye when looking down the sight — ergo first/front and the plane closer to your eye is referred to as the second focal plane (see figure above). Ok, so how does that affect your visual experience though? For first focal plane LPVO’s, the reticle will change in size according to how you adjust the magnification. For second focal plane LPVO’s, the reticle size will always remain constant regardless of what magnification you adjust to.

The key features of FFP mostly pertain to the optic’s ability to give the user more flexibility in their shooting. It allows for a larger field of view at a lower power magnification which makes follow up shots easier. Part of the large appeal of FFP LPVO’s is that the spacing for a holdover in relation to the reticle is always correct regardless of magnification. Competition shooters usually prefer FFP.

Sounds good right? But the downside is that the reticle will also be harder to see at lower power and gets thicker at higher magnification. So depending on lighting conditions, it could be difficult to see the thin reticle at lower power and there’s a very real possibility that the reticle might get so thick at higher power that it covers too much of the target. However, some scopes have illuminated reticles which help make it more visible at a lower power level.

Second Focal Plane

focal plane reticles

“SFP,” or second focal plane, has traditionally been used more often for hunting and long range shooters. The reason for this could be that the reticle under second focal plane optics is only accurate with holdover markings when used in the highest magnification setting. This isn’t really an issue if the SFP LPVO is only going to be used for long range shots.

If you feel limited by the SFP, don’t, because there are some great advantages to these optics as well. One of them is that even when under low power, you will always have a strong and highly visible reticle (see figure above). This is a highly undervalued feature because some don’t realize how small the reticle can be in low power with FFP’s. For that reason, much of the law enforcement and military sniper community will use SFP scopes.

Granted, it’s not the easiest optic to use in correlation to holdovers — if you want to calculate for accurate holdovers while using magnifications lower than the highest setting on a SFP LPVO, you can,it’s just not fun. But for those not wanting to crunch math equations on the fly (like us), one could just opt to use a canted red dot sight for closer engagements. It’s really about intended use. That’s why you should build more guns and have multiple optics (insert smiley face).

Things to Consider

As you continue your research and look for options to purchase consider these factors for your future LPVO:

Eye relief – Depending on price, each LPVO is going to have a different length of eye relief, which is how far your eye can physically be away from the rear lens to get a full picture in the glass. We usually want the furthest distance possible. Different scopes will have varying levels of eyebox forgiveness as well. FFP tends to provide a better experience with less “scope shadow” or vignetting.

Holdovers – You’ll have to decide how important is the accuracy to you vs. how often do you expect to be doing hold-off shooting. Again, intended use.

Power variable – We recommend looking for LPVO’s that range from 1 to 6, 1 to 8 or 1 to 10 power. With larger ranges, the price will also increase but it will be well worth your money for the sight picture clarity that you’ll be getting. Think of it like how camera lenses work and are priced.

Quality – Take note of different scopes’ material, their weight and how they hold up to adverse weather conditions or general toughness from being dropped or bumped.

Reticle size –This goes hand in hand with the holdovers but can be a big deal breaker for some people. Remember that FFP reticles change in size which can be convenient but potentially difficult to see at lowest and highest settings.

Reticle Type – Which reticle is right for you? I.e. MOA/MRAD/Mil Dot. In case you didn’t know there are several types of scope reticles but for our purposes we’ll only be talking about a couple. Fun fact: the “mil” in mil-dot does not stand for military but “milliradian” which is what MRAD stands for — so yes, mil-dot and MRAD are one and the same. MOA is an older style which could potentially be obsolete in the near future. MRAD may look busy but can be extremely helpful for calculating holdovers and holdunders on the fly.

Turrets –Do you want exposed or covered turrets? Does this matter to you? Do you need to be able to adjust your elevation and windage on the fly? Consider your preference before making your purchase.

Which LPVO’s to save up for?

We’re going to recommend you some of the best LPVO’s that reasonable amounts of money can buy. We encourage you to research and understand what these optics can do for you at these price points and see what features you’re willing to part with if you’re considering more budget friendly options:

Vortex Razor HD Gen III 1-10×24 (FFP) – $2,899

Kahles K19i 1-8×24 (SFP) – $2,499

EoTech Vudu 1-6×24 (FFP) – $1,399

EoTech Vudu 1-8×24 (SFP) $1,399

Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 (FFP) – $1,750

Nightforce ATACR 1-8×24 (FFP) – $2,800