Plane Facts

Plane Facts

Hugh explains the difference between a first focal plane reticle and a second focal plane reticle.

There are many factors to consider when shopping for a new variable-power riflescope, from the magnification range to the price range. A potentially important factor that is frequently overlooked is the location of the reticle within the scope. With reticles, as with real estate, location matters.

In a variable-power riflescope with the reticle in the first image plane, changing magnification enlarges or reduces the reticle image along with the target image. The reticle always covers the same percentage of the target area.

The reticle of a variable-power riflescope may be located in the first focal plane, associated with the objective lens; or it may be in the second focal plane, associated with the ocular lens. The practical consequences of the design choice are immediately evident when using the scope. A first-image-plane reticle changes size in lock-step with the target image as you change the magnification setting. Increase the power, and the target and reticle grow simultaneously. Decrease the power, and they both shrink. Either way, the reticle always covers, or subtends, the same amount of the target.


When the reticle is in the second focal plane, changing power setting increases or decreases the size of the target image, but the reticle remains a constant size to your eye. As the target image is enlarged, the reticle covers less of the target. As the target image is reduced, the reticle subtends more of it, possibly obscuring areas you might prefer to keep in view.



For most shooters seeking a general-purpose riflescope, the reticle location isn't really critical. The choice boils down to individual preference. If you would rather look at a reticle that maintains size consistency with the target, go with a first-plane model. If you want to see a constant-size reticle that looks the same regardless of target magnification, choose a riflescope with a second-plane reticle. Reticle location does become critical if you're in the market for a variable-power riflescope with range-estimating capability.

With a variable-power riflescope that has its reticle in the second image plane, changing magnification alters the size of the target image while the reticle image remains constant. At higher magnifications, the reticle covers less of the target area; at lower magnifications, the reticle blocks more of the target area.

Many such systems are based on visual comparison of a target or other object of known size with reticle features such as mil dots, graduated stadia lines, or other designated portions of the reticle. With a first-focal-plane reticle, which expands and contracts in synch with the target image, you will be able to employ the comparator guide marks at any magnification you select as appropriate to making the shot.


If the riflescope has a second-plane reticle, you will be able to use the comparator to estimate range only at a single, specified magnification, which will be indicated in the owner's manual for the scope. That means you will have to discipline yourself to set the power to the proper range-estimating value first, then reset it to the magnification you deem best for executing the shot.


Although this isn't the most onerous procedure, you do have to pay attention to what you're doing. Clearly, any range estimation made at an incorrect power setting will be off the mark, perhaps wildly so. What's the best way to avoid this pitfall? Follow the advice given to the tourist in New York City who asked a New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall--practice, practice.

Recommended for You

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day gifts. Accessories

Shooting Times Father's Day 2019 Gift Guide

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Shooting Times editor Joel Hutchcroft provides a comprehensive list of ideal Father's Day...

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable, ergonomic, accurate, and priced right. Handguns

Stoeger STR-9 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 17, 2019

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable,...

Burris has expanded its top-of-the-line Veracity hunting riflescope line with new 2-10X 42mm and 3-15X 50mm RFP (rear focal plane) models. Optics

Burris Veracity RFP Riflescopes

Jake Edmondson - June 04, 2019

Burris has expanded its top-of-the-line Veracity hunting riflescope line with new 2-10X 42mm...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Is the SIG P320 modular pistol the best polymer-framed high-capacity sidearm ever designed? Handguns

SIG SAUER P320 Review

Joseph Von Benedikt - September 13, 2018

Is the SIG P320 modular pistol the best polymer-framed high-capacity sidearm ever designed?

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and recoil. How-To

The Key to Shooting Far: Improving Ballistics

Rick Jamison - April 17, 2019

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and...

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians. Ammo

True Velocity Rifle Ammo

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians.

See More Stories

More Optics

The Bowen Classic Arms Rough Country rear sight are made in multiple configurations—including variations for notch style and height. Optics

Bowen Classic Arms Rough Country Rear Sight

Mike Schoby - August 06, 2019

The Bowen Classic Arms Rough Country rear sight are made in multiple configurations—including...

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.” Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

SIG SAUER's new optics system pairs the 'smart' capabilities of the KILO BDX rangefinder and Sierra3 BDX scope to provide effective long-range field solutions. Optics

The Sig Sauer BDX System

Joseph von Benedikt - December 28, 2018

SIG SAUER's new optics system pairs the 'smart' capabilities of the KILO BDX rangefinder and...

See More Optics

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.