With so many options on the market, picking the right scope is harder than ever. Here’s something that always comes up, which is better for hunting: FFP vs SFP scopes.
And for good reason…
Picking the right one could mean the difference between bagging your trophy or going home empty-handed.
Luckily you’re in the right place.
For more on FFP and SFP scopes, see our guide to affordable LPVO optics.
- While both FFP and SFP can be used for hunting, SFP is often the better choice because it allows you to see your target easily.
- The best FFP scopes for hunting include Primary Arms SLX 1-8X24, Vortex Razor HD Gen 3 1-10X24, and Nightforce ATACR 7-35×56 F1.
- The best SFP scopes for hunting include Trijicon Accupoint 1-4X, Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9X40, and Vortex Diamondback Rimfire 2-7X35mm.
FFP vs SFP: Which Is Better for Hunting?
When buying scopes purposely for hunting, your choice can boil down to a first or second focal plane scope. And I understand why it can be a hard choice. But let’s go over what they are and how one option can be better than the other.
The main characteristic of a first focal plane scope is that the reticle size you see when you look through the scope changes according to the magnification.
On the other hand, with second focal plane scopes, the reticle size remains the same despite your magnification. So, what does that mean when it comes to hunting?
A second focal plane is very handy for hunting because the reticle remains visible despite the magnification setting. Plus, if you’re hunting small game like squirrels, you can use maximum magnification and still see the target.
Does this mean an FFP scope is useless when it comes to hunting?
Not exactly. One of the benefits of a first focal plane scope is that the holdover value remains accurate at whatever magnification. This allows you to maximize such a scope even when using high magnification.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood and we used to say you can get further with a kind word and a gun than just a kind word.”David Mamet
If you’re hunting in an open country or unpredictable terrain, FFP scopes are very useful because, unlike second focal plane scopes, you don’t need to adjust the magnification to get a clear sight picture.
That said, SFP scopes are the better choice for hunting because they allow you to see your target and reticle clearly – even at low light conditions – with the scope set at minimal power.
What Is the Difference Between FFP and SFP?
The main difference between the first and second focal plane scopes is the reticle’s appearance in relation to the magnification.
With an FFP scope, the reticle’s size increases and decreases as the magnification changes. When you zoom in, you’ll notice the reticle’s crosshairs become larger in size, and when you zoom out, they become smaller.
With an SFP, the reticle size remains constant regardless of the magnification setting. This static size makes SFP scopes popular among hunters. That’s because, no matter the magnification range, you can easily see your target behind the reticle.
What Situations Are Better for Each Type?
When comparing FFP and SFP scopes, be sure to look at the situation at hand to pick the right type. Take a look at which focal plane is ideal for what situations.
Long Range Shooting
If you enjoy shooting at long ranges or taking shots at big game animals from a distance, you may want to go with the first focal plane scopes. When you zoom in on a bull elk, the dots, lines, and dashes become easier to see, allowing you to shoot with precision.
What’s more, since the hash marks maintain the same value despite the magnification level you pick, you’ll have more confidence in your holdover points to achieve pinpoint accuracy.
SFP scopes aren’t very great in long-range shooting, especially if you’re using a bullet drop compensation reticle. Even as you zoom in on your target, the reticle maintains the same size. What this means is that the measurement between hash marks is different at every magnification level.
Basically, your second focal plane scope with a BDC reticle is only accurate at one magnification level (usually the max power), which means you have to do calculations each time you adjust the scope.
AR-15 Style Rifles
Both FFP and SFP scopes can be used on AR-15s. It’s just a matter of how you use the rifle.
If you plan to use your AR-15 for long ranges, a first focal plane scope is the right choice. You’ll get consistent performance at whatever magnification power you choose.
On the other hand, if you know you’re using your AR-15 for close-range shooting, use SFP scopes. Since you can use an AR-15 for various applications, including hunting, long-range target shooting, competitions, and law enforcement, choose an FFP or SFP based on what you plan to do with the rifle.
When it comes to a close-quarters battle, I’d suggest a second focal plane scope. Why? Because an SFP reticle is easy to see even when using low magnification. This is such a valuable feature, especially if you have a low-powered optic.
A first focal plane scope comes with its challenges because you can lose sight of your hash marks at low power. This can be quite frustrating when you need to be quick and precise in critical situations.
As mentioned before, a second focal plane is ideal for short distances. With a low-power variable optic being a close to mid-range optic, an SFP scope becomes more appropriate.
That said, you can still use LPVOs with FFP reticles if you know you’ll be engaging targets at varying distances. Most people who fall into this category are either military personnel or competition shooters. Using an FFP LPVO will allow for quick and accurate shots.
But generally speaking, you’ll likely find an LPVO user with an SFP scope. Not just because it’s versatile but because it’s the more common focal plane in smaller magnification optics. Even if you have to go outside your comfort zone and shoot beyond 300 yards, you will likely have the time to adjust the dials for accurate holdovers.
Most target shooters practice at close to mid-range distances, making a second focal plane scope ideal for these circumstances. In addition, these people are probably not on the clock. They can pause and make scope adjustments, which means an SFP scope will do just fine.
That said, an FFP scope is ideal for long-range target shooting or for anyone with aging eyes because the larger reticle makes it easy to see your target.
If you’re debating first focal plane vs second focal plane for target practice, factor in the distance of the targets you’ll be shooting. But in most cases, SFP does just fine.
3 Gun Competitions
3-Gun or multi-gun competitions have become very common in the US. And just as the name suggests, this is a competition where speed and accuracy will make you win.
As such, I’d suggest an FFP scope, as it’s the right choice when your targets are at varying distances and you’re on the clock.
Most people who engage in this sport choose FFP scopes because of the accurate holdovers you get at whatever magnification setting, allowing for fast shots. An SFP scope will slow you down as you’ll constantly need to dial in on your rifle scope and reduce the magnification for a wider field of view to locate your target.
That said, an FFP scope has a downside where the reticle becomes small on low power, making it hard to see the center dot. But you can fix this issue by using a scope with an illuminated reticle.
What Does FFP Mean?
So, FFP stands for a first focal plane, but you may also hear other people calling it a front focal plane.
A focal plane scope will either be an FFP or SFP. In the case of an FFP, it means the reticle has been placed in front of the magnification lens and closer to the shooter’s eye.
Now, the first focal plane reticle changes in size as the magnification increases or decreases. In other words, when you zoom in, the crosshairs appear bigger, and when you zoom out, they become less pronounced.
An easy way to explain an FFP reticle is by talking about subtension. Essentially, it’s the area of the target that the reticle covers. So, in first focal plane rifle scopes, the subtension remains constant because the area the reticle covers is the same whether the magnification is higher or lower.
To put it in a practical sense, it means something measured at 0.25 MOA at 6x magnification will represent 0.25 MOA at 12x magnification.
“I’d never use one, but even I can appreciate the attraction of a gun. The heft. The sleekness. The cool steel. The precision. And the power. The power to change lives, history. The power of God.”Allan Burnett
Pros and Cons of FFP Scopes
- Constant subtension
- Ideal for low-light conditions
- Accurate holdover values at any power
- Suited to long-range use
- Increased reticle visibility at high power
- Poor reticle visibility at low power
- More expensive
- At high magnifications, the subtension can cover small targets and make them difficult to see
Advantages of FFP Scopes
One of the major advantages of a first focal plane scope is that the constant subtension allows accurate holdovers at high or low magnification. Aside from that, the reticle becomes more visible at high magnification, making it easy to see holdover points.
Disadvantages of FFP Scopes
One of the disadvantages of first focal plane scopes is that it can be hard to see the reticle at the lowest power settings. To compensate for this shortcoming, some optic companies make rifle scopes with thick crosshairs near the center. This ensures that even at low power settings, you can still pinpoint the crosshairs and hit your target.
Now, this next disadvantage can also be considered a benefit. A good number of FFP rifle scopes feature illuminated reticles. Of course, this means you’ll be spending more money on the scope. But hey, if it helps you see your target easily, why not?
What Does SFP Mean?
If an FFP scope is located in front of the magnification lens, the second focal plane is mounted behind it. It’s sometimes referred to as the rear focal plane, and in such scopes, the reticle remains the same size throughout the entire magnification range.
You can easily identify SFP reticles because the subtension constantly changes as the magnification changes. When you increase the magnification, the crosshairs will cover less area on your target, and when you decrease the magnification, the crosshairs will cover more.
Pros and Cons of SFP Scopes
- Visible reticle in all magnifications
- Cheaper than FFP scopes
- Easy to see small targets at high powers
- Crosshair visibility in poor lighting
- Changing subtension across the magnification range
- Holdover points are only accurate at one power, often max
- Less effective in low-range performance
Advantages of SFP Scopes
The major advantage of SFP scopes is that the reticle stays the same in size throughout the whole magnification range, making it easier to use at both minimum and maximum magnification.
When a reticle stays the same size, you get better crosshair visibility in low magnification. And with max magnification, you can easily see a small target.
Disadvantages of SFP Scopes
Second focal plane scopes have several disadvantages as well. For example, as the crosshairs maintain the same size across the scope’s magnification, it means they’re most accurate at a particular magnification setting.
Another challenge is math. These scopes have hash marks that represent different values at different magnifications, which means you have to do some math before firing your gun. Fortunately, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.
At the end of the day, when talking about FFP vs SFP scopes, know that both focal planes have their benefits and drawbacks. If you want to maximize the capabilities of rifle scopes, you should pick the focal plane ideal for your situation. (Resource: FFP vs SFP)
For similar reading, see our guide on SFP vs FFP LPVO scopes.
Do snipers use FFP or SFP?
Most snipers use FFP scopes instead of SFP as they allow them to precisely measure the distance to their target. Also, the accurate holdover values at any magnification from an FFP are crucial for snipers to shoot at long-range distances.
Is first or second focal plane better for hunting?
To decide whether a first or second focal plane is better for hunting, it comes down to how you’ll hunt and your personal preference. However, second focal plane scopes are more common in hunting situations.
(1) Field and Stream, FFP vs SFP Riflescopes: Which Should You Get? Retrieved from https://www.fieldandstream.com/gear/ffp-vs-sfp-riflescopes/
Antonio Salituro, is a multifaceted writer specializing in firearms, technology, and sustainability. With years of writing experience bolstered by a doctrine in philosophy, he also champions eco-conscious branding as a sustainability copywriter. His background in environmental science and climate technology, combined with SEO expertise, empowers brands in both the firearms and green sectors. An avid car enthusiast, Antonio’s diverse passions and skills make him a unique voice in contemporary writing.
- Email Antonio at: Antoniosalituro85@yahoo.com