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First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

There’s a steadily- increasing number of First Focal Plane (FFP) riflescopes becoming available. But which is better, First or Second Focal Plane (SFP)?

Most riflescopes used on air rifles have the reticle in what’s called the Second Focal Plane. But new technological developments are seeing the introduction of affordable First Focal Plane scopes for airgun use.

So should you choose a First or Second Focal Plane scope?

In the end, it’s down to a matter of personal choice. But – as many airgun shooters are not yet over-familiar with FFP scopes – it’s interesting to compare the effect of reticle placement inside the scope.

To make the comparison, we’re looking at two scopes from Aztec Optics. Apart from the reticle placement, they’re extremely similar. They have the same zoom range – 5.5 to 25 x – the same objective size – 50mm – and the same size tube, 30mm.

Moreover, they both have the same reticle pattern – called the DYND-1. The only really significant difference between the two models is the positioning of the reticle. This makes them ideal to compare that positioning – first or second focal plane.

To make the comparison clear, we took photographs through both FFP and SFP versions of the Aztec Optics 5.5-25 x 50 scopes. Deliberately, we conducted this comparison under poor lighting conditions.

The light was dull and overcast. We also aimed at some almost monochromatic tree trunks to make the challenge greater.

Here’s what we found…


1. Second Focal Plane Scope

Here’s the view through the SFP scope at 8x magnification.

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

And here it is at 25 x magnification.

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

As you can see, increasing the magnification magnifies the target. But the reticle stays the same size.


2. First Focal Plane Scope

Now, let’s see the difference between First or Second Focal Plane reticle positioning…

This is the view through the SFP scope at 8x. The reticle is somewhat smaller in size to the the SFP version at this magnification.

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

Now we have the FFP scope at 25x. Wow, what a difference! The reticle has increased in size in proportion to the target. It’s clear that this makes aiming MUCH easier in these dull conditions.

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

Now if we switch on the illuminated reticle capability of the Aztec FFP scope, it’s even easier! (Red illumination is also available, should you prefer).

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

Most of us know how many reticle graduations (Mil Dot or MOA) to hold over – or under – to achieve a hit at a specific range when sighting through a scope.

But not so many of us have really thought seriously about how the value of those graduations can change when a Second Focal Plane scope is zoomed. Because they do…

With a conventional SFP scope, this means that a mil dot graduation at 9x, for example, will have a much different value from that same mil dot in the same scope when at – say – 16 x zoom. That difference likely will cause a miss unless you are aware of that change.

The Aztec SFP scope has red marks on the zoom ring at 9x and 18x because these are the magnifications at which the reticle graduations can be used for holdover using Minutes of Angle (MOA).

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

In a first focal plane scope, the effect of a mil dot holdover is the same, whatever magnification is chosen in the zoom range. As we can see below, there’s no red marks on the zoom ring because the MOA graduations work for holdover at any magnification.

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

This makes the probability of a hit much higher if you use variable magnifications on your zoom scope.

The main benefit of FFP scopes will be found by hunters. In hunting, it’s often valuable to glass the area at low magnification and then zoom-in for the shot.

That advantage is a huge one where you use varying magnifications in your zoom scope and need to take quick shots.

If you always use use your scope at a fixed magnification, there’s no benefit however. That’s why first focal plane scopes are of little value to Field Target shooters, for example, who always use the same magnification, even though the distance to their target is unknown.

And, if you’re used to Second Focal Plane scopes – as most of us are – it’s a little disconcerting to see how large – and thick – the reticle grows on a first focal plane scope when it’s zoomed-in.

There’s a concern that the thicker apparent reticle till obscure the target or somehow “hide” it.

But these concerns are likely to fade with time and when they’re considered alongside the massive benefit of consistent effective mil dot holdover at any point in the zoom range.

So do you prefer the First or Second Focal Plane reticle?

First Or Second Focal Plane Riflescope. Which Do You Prefer?

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