First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane
Welcome all, to this segment of which is better FFP or RFP Scope offerings. A lot goes into selecting the right optic for your firearm, and one of the first questions that gets asked is Front focal plane or rear focal plane. The answer lies in how you are going to use your setup. Do not let the armchair operators fool you, neither focal plane is better nor worse than the other. It is merely a matter of selecting the right tool for the job at hand.
Before you make your mind up on what scope to run, it is important to know what we are talking about, so here is a crash course on focal planes. In every riflescope there are two locations that a reticle can be installed at. Those locations are your focal planes, and one or the other will serve as the housing area for your reticle. For layman’s terms, the location closer to the objective lens is referred to as the Front Focal Plane or First Focal Plane, and the second is Rear Focal Plane also known as Second Focal Plane.
Front Focal Plane
The reticle magnifies with your image, in a Front Focal Plane scope the Mil/MOA lines on the reticle will be the same at all magnification range. So, if you are utilizing a Mil-based reticle, a Mil hash mark on the reticle will equal a Mil whether you are at 5x or 25x magnification. This allows you to use accurate holdovers at any given point.
Rear Focal Plane
The reticle on a Rear Focal Plane scope always stays the same size, the mil hold points or hash marks will only be accurate on one specific magnification usually at the highest magnification or if you have a Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) scope that’s rear focal plane you have to have a drop chart for the setup to work that you will have to create. So, again, if you are using the same Mil-based reticle as above, you’d need to be on 25x for your Mils to be accurate for holdover shooting. Any less than that and you will have to do some quick math in order to get an accurate holdover point. At half-magnification, your Mil would really be two Mils.
What scope to get
Which focal plane you require depends entirely on how you are going to be using your setup. A Front Focal Plane optic is ideal for a shooting style where at any magnification or wind I can make the adjustments through the scope with the mil marks, this is popular among long-range shooters. The concept is simple: You hold high for elevation and hold left or right to compensate for wind, using your Mil or MOA reticle appropriately. As your reticle grows with magnification to match your target, those holdover points do not change. So, if you are hunting in open country or planning on regularly ringing steel from a prone position at significant ranges, having those firm hold positions is useful. The downside is that the reticle will not be as visible on low magnifications, so if you are shooting on 3x most often, the reticle will be harder to see. Unless it is a CQB first focal plane setup scope that has an illuminated reticle, WHICH IS HIGHER IN PRICE.
Now if you are hunting thick country or in a situation where you are likely to engage your target at a close-range, a Rear Focal Plane that offers a large field-of-view and a bold, usable reticle at low magnifications would serve you better.
Ultimately, there is not a right or wrong answer to the focal plane debate. It is about selecting the proper tool for the job, same as you evaluate your rifle and ammunition offerings before making a purchase. Take some time to consider what you are going to be using your rifle for.
Michael Lett Jr.
Little River Range and Training
Long Range Tactics Instructor