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Top FFP Scopes under £600

Paul Austin puts the very best sub £600 First Focal Plane scopes to the test…


Some people ask why they should bother with a First Focal Plain (FFP) scope. The real question is, why wouldn’t you? They were an expensive alternative to Second Focal Plane (SFP) but times have changed, quality has improved and the prices have dropped dramatically.


The main USP for FFP scopes, is that the reticle shrinks and expands to match your magnification; in other words, no matter what mag you’re at, the holdover/hold under remains the same.


With traditional SFP scopes, holdover/under changes constantly, as you adjust the magnification. As a result, most shooters only ever use two or three magnifications at most. Let’s say a shot is one Mildot of holdover at 4x, it will be two at 8x and three at 12x. If you wander away from these pre-sets, it’s time to break out the calculator and most likely miss an opportunity.


With an FFP scope, it doesn’t matter, just zoom in until you’re comfortable and take the shot; it remains a 1 Mildot shot at any mag. This is particularly important for air rifle or slower rimfire shooters, where holdover calculations can be vital.


Basically, with an FFP scope, you get instant access to any mag and you don’t need to do any mental arithmetic, other than remembering your basic holdover/under distances. Great news for subsonic shooters and anyone out and about after dark, when accurately adjusting mag can be a challenge.


It may be that additional features, such as reticle styles, parallax adjustment, illumination or dialling ability that makes the difference but, rest assured, whichever scope takes your fancy, it will definitely be money well spent.

The testing process




To make the process fair, I put three shooters to the task, myself included, to score each scope independently, with the individual scores being combined to give the final results. To keep things fair, I set-up an Alpha hunting torch with a red LED to produce a consistent light source to test how well each scope performed in a traditional lamping/foxing scenario.


A variety of targets were selected between 100m to 300m, plus, a small fox target tucked away in a hedgerow, to provide a particularly tough contrast test. We opted for a default 10x mag for all the scopes. Obviously, higher power scopes will score better in the features category, if their image quality holds up.

  • Falcon 3-18 FFP IR 3-18x50

    Falcon 3-18 FFP IR 3-18x50

    The Falcon is a great all-rounder and, at the price, a superb option for anyone taking their first steps into FFP. Admittedly, not quite up to the mark with some of the others in terms of cuttingedge image quality or lamping performance, but, as a generalpurpose day scope, it’s a steal.

    Build quality is excellent. Lots of adjustment at the ocular end, nice turrets and a respectable mag range. 10-metre parallax adjustment and an excellent unfussy numbered illuminated reticle. It could do with an additional low power setting for night shooting with the IR but, all-in-all, a very good scope that’s great value for money.

    Combined Score: 52.5

    Value for money: 8

    Price: £329.95

    Contact: Optics Warehouse opticswarehouse.co.uk

  • Nikko Stirling Diamond FFP 4-16x44 IR

    Nikko Stirling Diamond FFP 4-16x44 IR

    Another great value scope. Excellent build quality, nice construction and solid fixtures and fittings. The clicks are solid with lockable turrets and its compact size make it’s a great choice for any air rifle/rimfire hunting scenario.

    Its 4-16x mag is a little narrow, compared to some of the opposition, but perfectly adequate for hunting. The illuminated ret works well but the lack of numbering and the rather puzzling hash marks on the ret itself may limit its appeal to some. Having said that, it’s very good glass for the asking price.

    Combined Score: 53.2

    Value for money: 9

    Price: £311.95

    Contact: Optics Warehouse opticswarehouse.co.uk

  • Athlon Argos BTR 6-24×50 FFP

    Athlon Argos BTR 6-24×50 FFP

    The Athlon is another great value scope but, for some reason, it just doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. The main issue is that they’ve pushed the glass a little too far. It’s sold as a 6-24 but, to be honest, they should have maxed the mag at 16/18x - after which it really struggles. The turrets and clicks are good and, like the Falcon, it aspires to being a dialler, with hash marks on the turrets.

    The 11 stage IR is nicely implemented, with the low-power settings suiting night shooters. A good scope with quality fixtures and fittings but the 24x is more than it can manage.

    Combined Score: 51.7

    Value for money: 7.5

    Price: £359.95

    Contact: Optics Warehouse opticswarehouse.co.uk

  • Delta Titanium 4.5-14x44 FFP AO

    Delta Titanium 4.5-14x44 FFP AO

    If you picked the Delta up in a shop, I’m fairly certain it would be back on the shelf instantly. It looks like something from the 1980s. A 1-inch tube, screw-in, old-school ocular adjustment and locking collar, front parallax adjustment, it certainly isn’t what you’d call a looker.

    It isn’t exactly feature-rich either. The turrets are horrible clunky affairs that fit squarely in the ‘set and forget category’. There’s no IR reticle, 15 to infinity on the parallax and a fairly modest mag range of 4.5-14x. Plus, it’s expensive! So, is there any good news? If you’re an HFT shooter, most definitely.

    Every last penny has gone into the glass, which is superb and possibly the best on test. The ret has a very HFT specific Christmas tree design, with a single click scale alongside to assist in micro adjustments to your aim point. If you’re a serious air rifle competition shooter, this is probably as good as it gets.

    Combined Score: 51.4

    Value for money: 7.5

    Price: £474.99

    Contact: Optics Warehouse opticswarehouse.co.uk

  • Hawke Sidewinder FFP 6-24 x 56

    Hawke Sidewinder FFP 6-24 x 56

    Hawke have clearly changed their focus over the years from entry level scopes and are aiming squarely at dominating the higher ground; the Sidewinder FFP is an obvious example. In short, it’s a superb long-range FFP for the money. The glass isn’t quite up to the standard of its stablemate, the Frontier or the Delta but, if you want a scope with excellent glass and real reach, it’s the best of the bunch.

    The ret is a clean Christmas tree design, the IR works well. The fixtures and fittings are excellent, shipping with screw-fit alloy scope covers, an optional large parallax wheel, a decent IR and lockable turrets. No dialling hashes but its real ‘piece de resistance’ is the excellent image quality all the way out to 24x. Something which none of the others can match.

    Combined Score: 56.4

    Value for money: 8

    Price: £469.95

    Contact: Hawke hawkeoptics.com

  • Hawke Frontier 3-15 x 50. Mil Ext. IR FFP

    Hawke Frontier 3-15 x 50. Mil Ext. IR FFP

    Let’s start with the negatives; it’s a 3-15x, 18x would have been nice but hardly a deal breaker for a lightweight hunting scope. When re-zeroing, you sometimes struggle to get the caps bang on 0, as the gearing only marries-up every other notch, so you can end up settling for +1 or -1 on the turrets. That’s about it, in every other regard it’s superb!

    The glass is really, really nice and on a par with the HFT dedicated Delta. Fit and finish is probably the best on test. It looks and feels like a high-quality scope. The ret is a clean and simple numbered design and the IR, as you’d expect, works well.

    The bottom-line with the Frontier, just like the Delta, is the quality of the glass. It doesn’t have the reach of the Sidewinder but it certainly has the image quality and all the whistles and bells any hunter could ever need.

    Combined Score: 56.7

    Value for money: 8

    Price: £599.99

    Contact: hawkeoptics.com

The categories:

Brightness:

A scope’s brightness is pretty self-explanatory; literally, how bright the overall image appears to the shooter.

Contrast:

The importance of good contrast can easily be overlooked. Spotting a brownish critter on a brown-ish background is a challenge for any scope and without good contrast, it’s virtually impossible.

Clarity:

The clarity score combines of all the above and adds the sharpness of the image to give an overall image quality score.

Lamping:

A dedicated test with a red pill to determine how the optics and associated coatings cope with a typical night shooting set-up.

Minimum magnification:

The min mag score is primarily concerned with the visibility/ usability of the reticle when scaled down to its smallest size. A badly implemented FFP reticle can sometimes be so fine that it becomes difficult to use and this score will reflect that.

Maximum magnification:

The max mag score, not surprisingly, is the reverse of min mag; if badly designed, a fully zoomed FFP ret can be too large, or the markings too thick, potentially obscuring smaller targets at longer range.

Features:

All the extra whistles and bells, such as variable mag range, illuminated reticle, dialling turrets and min parallax adjustment. The mini review for each scope will go into the specifics.


A big thank you!

Many thanks to Optics Warehouse and Hawke Optics for making these scopes available, and I’d also like thank my fellow shooters, Simon Robinson and Paul Ayriss for their time, patience and invaluable opinions. Hopefully, their efforts will help you pick the perfect FFP for your rifle.

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