Thermal: Photons cause electrons to transition to mid-gap states then decay back to lower bands, inducing phonon generation and thus heat.
Polarization: Photons induce changes in polarization states of suitable materials, which may lead to change in index of refraction or other polarization effects.
Photochemical: Photons induce a chemical change in a material.
Weak interaction effects: photons induce secondary effects such as in photon drag detectors or gas pressure changes in Golay cells.
Photodetectors may be used in different configurations. Single sensors may detect overall light levels. A 1-D array of photodetectors, as in a spectrophotometer or a Line scanner, may be used to measure the distribution of light along a line. A 2-D array of photodetectors may be used as an image sensor to form images from the pattern of light before it.
A photodetector or array is typically covered by an illumination window, sometimes having an anti-reflective coating.
There are a number of performance metrics, also called figures of merit, by which photodetectors are characterized and compared
Spectral response: The response of a photodetector as a function of photon frequency.
Cadmium zinc telluride radiation detectors can operate in direct-conversion (or photoconductive) mode at room temperature, unlike some other materials (particularly germanium) which require liquid nitrogen cooling. Their relative advantages include high sensitivity for x-rays and gamma-rays, due to the high atomic numbers of Cd and Te, and better energy resolution than scintillator detectors.
HgCdTe infrared detectors. Detection occurs when an infrared photon of sufficient energy kicks an electron from the valence band to the conduction band. Such an electron is collected by a suitable external readout integrated circuits (ROIC) and transformed into an electric signal.
Bolometers measure the power of incident electromagnetic radiation via the heating of a material with a temperature-dependent electrical resistance. A microbolometer is a specific type of bolometer used as a detector in a thermal camera.
A graphene/n-type silicon heterojunction has been demonstrated to exhibit strong rectifying behavior and high photoresponsivity. Graphene is coupled with silicon quantum dots (Si QDs) on top of bulk Si to form a hybrid photodetector. Si QDs cause an increase of the built-in potential of the graphene/Si Schottky junction while reducing the optical reflection of the photodetector. Both the electrical and optical contributions of Si QDs enable a superior performance of the photodetector.
In 2014 a technique for extending semiconductor-based photodetector's frequency range to longer, lower-energy wavelengths. Adding a light source to the device effectively "primed" the detector so that in the presence of long wavelengths, it fired on wavelengths that otherwise lacked the energy to do so.