Hand-Picked Daily GUN DEALS, and Exclusive Coupons Codes >>>

First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane Rifle Scopes

We take a look at the difference between FFP and SFP optics, lay out the pros and cons, and help you figure out which style is right for you.

Researching rifle scopes, you’ll probably stumble across a few terms that may leave you scratching your head…

First focal plane and second focal plane, a.k.a. FFP and SFP.

Triple Scout Scopes
Triple Scout Scopes

If you’ve seen these terms, you’ve likely also noticed considerable price differences, reticle differences, and beyond.

That may leave you wondering, what’s the big deal? Why such a difference?

Luckily, we know our optics around here.

9 Tested Long Range Scopes
Oh yes…we love optics!

So, in this article, we’re taking on FFP versus SFP. We’ll lay out the definitions of these two, what they mean for the inside of your optic, and which might be the best option for your rifle.

When we’re through, you’ll confidently know the difference between FFP and SFP and which one deserves your hard-earned cash.

Let’s get to it!

Table of Contents


Understanding Subtensions

Before we dive into the difference between FFP and SFP, we need to first talk about subtensions…because they’re important!

Have you ever looked inside your optic to see hash marks or circles?

Well, those are subtensions, and we use them for windage and ballistic drop of a projectile.

Mini-14 (9)
Those little circles are subtensions.

They allow you to use holdovers to estimate bullet drop and windage.

Those subtensions are a specific size, so shooters can account for windage and ballistic drop at various ranges.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into FFP and SFP…


Let’s clarify that we’re looking exclusively at variable-powered optics when talking about FFP and SFP.

First Focal Plane

FFP, or first focal plane, has grown in popularity though they are somewhat new.

First focal plane scopes house the reticle assembly near the front of the magnification erector assembly.

EOTech Vudu Mounted
EOTech Vudu, a FFP scope.

The erector assembly houses your magnification component, and the reticle sits in front of it.

You’ll likely see most high-end optics companies offering FFP optics.

With first focal plane optics, the reticle size changes as the magnification increases and decreases.

EOTech Vudu 5x
EOTech Vudu at 5x

FFP optics keep the measurements of the reticle accurate at any magnification range.

EOTech Vudu 25x
EOTech Vudu at 25x.

FFP’s use of reticle subtensions at every magnification setting is the FFP’s biggest advantage, my friends.

With high-powered optics, like 6-24X and beyond, this becomes extremely valuable.

Making on the fly windage and elevation calls is invaluable!

PSA AR-10 Gen 3 Handguard
PSA AR-10 with PSA 6-24x scope.

When it comes to reticles that use ballistic drop compensation, a first focal plane scope is a must-have.

This allows on-the-fly ballistic drop compensation without the worry or need for finding the right magnification setting.

Another big advantage is that at higher magnification levels, the subtensions are accurate and easy to see.

FFP scopes have some downsides, though.


At close range, the reticle can appear very small and hard to see. Combine that with low light issues, and the reticle can get awfully hard to see.

For lower-powered optics, the usefulness of an FFP reticle declines.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Second Focal Plane

SFP, or second focal plane, optics house the reticle behind the erector tube assembly.

Shooting the Strike Eagle
Shooting with the Strike Eagle, a SFP scope.

SFP optics tend to feature affordable price tags while offering comparative specs in quality, magnification, durability, etc.

Something Of a Poor

With second focal plane optics, the reticle remains the same size throughout its magnification range.

Strike Eagle 4x
Strike Eagle 4x

Consequently, the reticle’s various subtensions aren’t accurate through the range of magnification.

Strike Eagle 24x
Strike Eagle 24x

Often SFP scopes have a specific magnification in which these measurements are accurate.

That magnification range is often the highest setting but can vary between manufacturers. So, it’s wise to check the manual to be sure.

You can also do a little math with an SFP scope and various magnification ratings to come up with accurate measurements.

Hangover Math Gif
Me at the range calculating in my head…

These optics use highly visible reticles at every magnification setting. This makes the optic easier to use at lower powered settings.

With low powered optics, like 1-4X optics, an SFP reticle is easy to use for close-range shooting. It’s big, easy to see, and fast.

Trijicon Accupower 1-4x in a BOBRO QD mount.
Trijicon Accupower 1-4x in a BOBRO QD mount.

The downsides are apparent.

SFP subtensions suffer at every magnification range but one. This makes higher-powered SFP optics nowhere near as fast or as useful for on-the-fly long-range shots.

Thumb on top of the grip, you don't need your thumb wrapped to have a steady grip!
SFP optics…not so great for long range shooting.
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

You Should Definitely Buy…

FFP optics are surely the better choice, right?

Well, it’s never that simple, y’all.

Notebook Simple

FFP and SFP are important, sure, but they shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when shopping for scopes.

You also should look at overall scope quality — including clarity, durability, and reticle design.

On top of that, think about the optic’s purpose and at what ranges you’ll use it.

That will help guide your hand and selection between FFP and SFP.

Daniel Defense DDM4V7 Desert Shooting
Runnin’ and gunnin’ in the desert will require a different scope than long distance shots from prone.

When to Buy an SFP

If you want a lower-powered LPVO, then SFP is the way to go.

The bigger reticle is faster for close-range shots, and long-range shots will max out the magnification, so the subtensions are accurate.

A 1-4 or 1.5-5 is perfect with an SFP reticle design.

BCM with Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS
BCM with Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS SFP.

This is especially true when paired with a little carbine in a pistol caliber or something like a 10.5-inch barreled AR.

These are not long-range firearms by any means and work best in close quarters shooting where speed rules.

The bigger SFP reticles are fast at close range because they tend to be bigger than most.

Illuminated Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS Reticle
Illuminated Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS Reticle

Hunting is another realm where SFP is important.

Humane hunting ranges are not going to involve much bullet drop. Therefore, the accuracy of subtensions or even their presence is silly.

When a hunter chooses an optic, they need to consider not only their furthest shot but their closest shot.

Deer hunting with kids? Absolutely.

Close shots often rely on speed, and big reticles are fast reticles.

There is a good argument for SFP optics for 3-Gun and USPSA PCC.

The ranges these competitors engage at are rarely long, and the need for ballistic drop estimation is often unnecessary.

Need some suggestions? Check out our roundup of the Best 1-6x Scopes & LPVO.

When to Buy an FFP Optic

First focal plane scopes are the optic of choice for snipers and designated marksmen. In those roles, precision is critical.

Vortex Razor Gen 3 1-10X down sight
Vortex Razor Gen 3 1-10X down sight

The FFP optics are the best choice for duty grade use and when you need to reach out and touch a target with extreme accuracy.

FFP scopes also fit very well into Precision Rifle Series matches.

km precision rifle training 3
Precision rifle training.

These scopes dominate this field because the ranges are so varied. Competitors need to place accurate shots at different ranges while compensating for wind and drop.

If you want to shoot long range almost exclusively, then go for an FFP optic over an SFP.

If you need some suggestions, we have you covered. Check out our list of the Best Long Range Rifle Scopes.


Whether you want the close range SFP offers or want to reach out to further distances with FFP, knowing the difference between FFP and SFP optics will help you get the most out of your shooting experience.

More Scope Mounts
Scopes, scopes, and more scopes.

SFP or FFP, which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below. Ready to start nailing down which optics to buy? Head over to our Gun Scopes & Optics page where you will find all the articles you need to choose your next optic.

The Best Gun Deals, Coupons and Finds

Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical's sales and deals email.

2 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Don Shelton

    Excellent article explaining FFP vs SFP. I've been a shotgun/pistol shooter for many years, just getting into rifle shooting (long and short range), this article is very beneficial. Really enjoy your email posts, great information without all the bs. I also appreciate the free targets. Keep up the excellent service you provide for shooters at all levels

    June 3, 2023 11:27 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Really appreciate this article. After much research, including this great article and reading and evaluating my personal needs the optic I chose for my 16” AR is the Primary Arms Gen III 1-6x24 Second Focal Plane with the ACSS reticle. I absolutely love it. Fast at close ranges with great eye relief. The black etched reticle is crisp (way clearer for my eyes than my Vortex Sparc Solar red dot). I was concerned that the reticle illumination was not going to be daylight bright, but it is. (Not that it’s needed in most cases with the black etched reticle.) Sighted in at 100 yards as advised and had 1.5” groupings after 9 shots (3 rounds/group). Looking forward to reaching out past the 200-300+ yard range to put the BDC to the test. Thanks again for the knowledge.

    February 4, 2022 6:53 pm
Join the community! Log in
Please provide a valid email address.
Password is required.
Please provide a valid display name.
Please provide a valid email address.
The password should contain at least 8 characters with at least one number or special character.
Please accept in order to continue.
Trouble logging in?
Type your email address and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.
Please provide a valid email.
Type your new password and hit button below to confirm it.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We already have an account registered for email address () which is linked to your Facebook account.
To log in type your Pew Pew Meter password below.
Field is required.
Account already exists
We noticed that you have previously logged in with your Account which is linked to the same email address () - we can link both of your accounts together.
In order to link your accounts, hit button below and log in to your Account with the same email as above.

Account in Pew Pew Meter means more

Check what do you get by creating an account
Check and save your reviews!
Bookmark and compare your favorite firearms
Manage your newsletter subscription
pew pew tactical logo

new here?

Personalize your experience.
Select what level shooter you are!

pew pew tactical logo

level up your gun knowledge

Thanks! We'll send you the latest guides and training tips geared towards your level.

pew pew tactical logo


You'll now receive newsletters of our best articles on techniques, guns & gear.

$47 value

yours free!

targets targets

practice targets

printer icon printable

our 9 favorite targets and drills


practice targets

printer icon printable

enter your email to download

We'll only use the information provided according to our privacy policy.

success icon

Ready to Download

Click below to begin your download

download pdf