Are you on the scope for a new scope? Not sure what sort of reticle to choose from the above-listed ones?
You’re not alone and today, we’re going to be looking through (pun intended) the First Focal Plane (FFP) and the Second Focal Plane (SSP).
To start things off, one must first recognize the fact that for most hunters, only the SSP rings any sort of bells, as it is the most used one out there.
That comes from an old tradition dating back from World War One, where most if not all rifles employed the SSP method of seeing through a rifle.
Let’s get down to the basics and first define both focal planes and the accompanying terms that come with them.
Besides the focal planes, we’ll also define some other, lesser-known terms to help out fledglings just joining in the hobby.
Generally speaking, refracting scopes have two planes of focus, one on the front and one on the rear, where a reticle can be placed.
The first one comes between the optical element that gathers light (the objective) and the lens system and is called the First Focal Plane (FFP).
The second one comes between the ocular lens and the lens system, also called the Second Focal Plane (SSP).
This means that with the FFP always changes no matter what sort of magnification is used. To put it into perspective, when looking at a target 500 yards away, the reticle will appear small, BUT when that same target is magnified, the FFP starts resembling the SFP, i.e. it will become larger.
On the other hand, the SFP reticle stays the same with any amount of magnification used and remains at the same size in relation to the target, no matter what magnification is used.
The easiest way to check whether you’re stuck with one or the other is to look through your scope, zoom in and out and note whether your reticle changes or stays the same at any given distance.
Put simply, the FFP is flexible, the SFP is static in relation to the target.
Reticles used in hunting, in 99,99% of all situations are crosshairs, most commonly represented as plus signs ‘+’. If you have ever played any shooting game, you’ll be more than familiar with the crosshair.
Another thing many don’t take into account when shooting at their game are the different standards of measure used in hunting, mainly inches, MIL’s and MOA‘s.
Most are very familiar with inches as they belong to linear measurements taught in schools. Another term many will close to is the ‘Tennessee windage’ measured in inches. Simply adjust your rifle horizontally to the target you’re facing, account for the wind using inches and fire away!
Now here comes the convoluted part, many will feel dreary about this as there is some math involved, but don’t worry, we’ll divulge this as simply as one can. If you want to be a professional hunter (or at least appear to be one), this will help you out immensely.
MOA’s and MIL’s are closely tied together.
Since there are 360 degrees in a circle, with each degree being divided into 60 minutes, we get the following equation: One degree (at 100 yards) is equal to 62,83 inches. Now that we have that number, we simply take one minute out of sixty (remember the degrees we divided), divide them to 60 and we get 1,047 inches. These are MOA’s (Minutes of Angle).
In layman terms, 1 inch is equal to 1 MOA at 100 yards, one can even use them interchangeably.
Mil’s (miliradians) are not linear, but rather an angular type of measurement, meaning that the number changes based on your distance, to not bother you with the complex math behind it, remember that at a distance of 100 yards, 1 MIL is equal to 3,6 inches.
At 300 yards the result would be 10,8 inches and so on.
That’s it for the terms, now that we’re equipped with the knowledge of measurements for each type of rifle out there, we can proceed with the comparison between the FFP and the SSP.
Most hunters are amicable with the SFP as it has been around for ages, but now that the FFP has become more mainstream, with many shops offering it in addition to the SSP, many feel torn between the two choices.
Let’s compare them during different conditions and find the most suitable answer for any hunter out there!
Check the best first focal plane scopes as well.
Logically speaking, one can immediately recognize the faults and downsides of the SSP. While still a fan favorite, it simply cannot measure up to the FFP when high-power scopes are in question.
This means that when you have to take a long range shot, you’re not able to account for the bullet drop happening at higher values.
Why is that so?
Put simply, as the SFP only has one line of being, meaning that the reticle always stays the same size, bullet drop is something that becomes VERY HARD to measure on long distances with the SSP.
On the other hand, the FFP is made for long distance shooting. Since the reticle changes in relation to the distance taken, calculating bullet drop becomes a breeze!
As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about fluctuating MIL’s or MOA’s as the scales remain the same no matter what distance you’re covering.
Another caveat for the SFP is that on really long distances, say a 1000 yards, you’re running into the risk of the reticle entirely covering your target’s body, making a precise shot near too impossible!
In spite of that, where the SFP truly shines is at lower values (500 yards or less). It is here that the FFP appears a bit too tiny and small, barely visible to some
In our professional opinion, if you’re into long-range shots, go with the FFP, it might be a new toy on the market, as it’s been heavily popularized by the so-called ‘snipers’ in the hunting game.
Conversely, if you like to stick close to your game, opt for the SFP and you’ll do just fine!
Line of Sight
The most influential thing on our line of sight is lightning itself. Whether you’re a morning lark or a night owl will determine whether you should go for the SFP or the FFP.
The SFP absolutely dominates when there’s little to no lightning present and we’ll tell you why shortly.
At nearer targets, there is little to no tangible difference between the SFP and the FFP. They are both well suited for the occasion.
In contrast, when the target is far away in a low lighting situation (at dusk or at night), the SFP is the more preferable solution.
The reason lies behind the amount of light absorbed from your environment, as the FFP is more reliant on light, it functions less ideally than the SFP.
Nevertheless, as the SFP is not as susceptible to lighting conditions, as a result of its static nature, your best bet is to use it during such dreary cases of little lightning.
Since FFP models are still a novelty in the hunting game, their price is a bit steeper in comparison to their counterpart, the SFP.
It is also important to note that the FFP is a lot harder to produce than a SFP, as FFP’s are generally known to be more fragile, therefore they need to be stonewalled with expensive materials keeping everything in one piece.
This doesn’t mean that the FFP will be less durable than the SFP, just that the production value is a lot higher in the FFP scopes.
When it comes to the bottom line, both the FFP and the SFP enjoy many advantages and disadvantages. It is entirely dependent on your needs and wishes which one of these two will serve you the best.
From our point of view, we recommend the SFP to the following types of hunters:
1) Hunters used to the SFP or hunting with acquaintances using the SFP
2) Hunters that are short-sighted (myopia) or suffer from any other eye impairments
3) Hunters that hunt at short distances
4) Hunters that prefer their rifle at the maximum magnification settings
5) Hunters that prefer a picture of their game as persistent as possible
At the same time, we proudly advocate the FFP to the following types of hunters:
1) Hunters that are eloquent in maths, wanting to try their luck in professional hunting
2) Hunters that aren’t afraid to pay a bit more to get a bit more.
3) Hunters that are flexible in their nature, that don’t visit the same hunting grounds over and over again
4) Hunters that see themselves as snipers, preying on those far away from their line of sight
In the end, we would like to wish you a happy and safe hunting time. Always make sure that you’ve got all your equipment inspected and ready, look for signs of danger and remember to stay safe out there!
Mike Fellon is an experienced firearms enthusiast and optics expert. He delivers unbiased and detailed rifle scope reviews. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas. He inherited his hunting passions after his father John – he was fascinated by his stories, hearing how much attention, focus, dedication and patience he invested in shooting every animal. When he was old enough, his father first allowed him to shoot some cans and bottles with his shotgun, and then took him hunting – it was love at first sight. Mike has never stopped shooting ever since.