The advantages of first focal plane scopes


The focal-plane precision riflescopes mystify and intimidate many shooters. This is understandable, especially for outdoor men and women who cut their teeth on spectacles with a duplex reticle and a magnification range of 3 to 9. A key to mastering these instruments is to become familiar with them. first focal plane reticles and understand the advantages of this system.

Benefits of the first focal plane reach

A reticle in the first focal plane (FFP) does not change in size compared to what is seen through the telescope. For this reason, the reference marks for windage and elevation in the reticle will work regardless of the power setting the scope is selected on.

In contrast, the second focal plane (SFP) reticles are static. When zooming in and out with an SFP scope, the reticle does not expand or contract relative to the target. So all hold and drift marks in the reticle will only work at a specific magnification setting (usually the highest), severely limiting the usefulness of the scope.

Which power setting is the best?

The magnification ranges of precision rifle scopes cover a lot of territory. They tend to bottom out around 4X. At the top end, you’ll find magnification levels of 35X or more. A 5-30X scope is just about ideal for long distance work.

Even when shooting for a mile (1,760 yards), I rarely turn the magnification up to maximum. Keeping the range on a more moderate setting (say 15X to 20X) achieves a good balance. This offers a generous field of view, a wider exit pupil, and a slightly more forgiving eye box, all of which improve at lower magnifications. At the same time, the reticle will be easy enough to interpret so that you can make quick corrections to your shots while shooting.

Practical benefits of a first focal plane

What this intermediate power setting means in practice is that you’ll be able to spot your hits or misfires better. This is because when the reticle moves under recoil it is less likely to jump completely off target (especially if your shooting form is correct). The larger exit pupil and more generous eye box are more forgiving when trying to hit the target from an awkward position.

When to maximize it

One issue that can arise when shooting from an awkward position is that your eye may not be centered in the scope. If you haven’t adjusted the parallax focus and your eye is shifted, it can move the reticle over the target and cause failure.

The best way to adjust the parallax focus is to set the scope to the highest magnification level, then focus the scope until the target is in focus. The dial lowers the power level again before taking the picture.

By adjusting parallax, also sometimes referred to as telescope parallax removal, the shooter focuses the reticle and target at the same distance. With the parallax adjusted, you should be able to move your head and the reticle should stay in the same spot on the target.

The disadvantage of FFP staves

One criticism of FFP oscilloscopes is that the reticle can be difficult to see and use at the lowest power settings. This can certainly be the case with some reticles. Scope makers have worked in several ways to overcome this problem. One is to thicken the reticle outside the central area. This bulkier line is easy to pick up at lower power settings, which is especially useful in low light.

Another option is to illuminate the reticle. This adds bulk and expense to an optic, but can be a time saver in certain circumstances. The best lighting systems have an “off” setting between each light level. This allows the shooter to kill the lighting quickly, regardless of the lighting setting chosen.

FFP reticles are labeled in milliradians (mils) or minutes of angle (MOA). The system to be used depends on the preferences of the shooter. We will discuss the ins and outs of mil and MOA reticles in the next article.

Previous articles from the Go Long series

• Getting the most out of a precision rifle scope

• Expert guide on mounting a precision rifle scope

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