Single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) provide photons' time of arrival for various applications. In recent years, attempts have been made to miniaturize SPADs in order to facilitate large-array integration and in order to reduce the dead time of the device. We investigate the benefits and drawbacks of device miniaturization by characterizing a new fast SPAD in a commercial 0.18 μm complementary metal oxide semiconductor technology. The device employs a novel and efficient guard ring, resulting in a high fill factor. Thanks to its small size, the dead time is only 5 ns, resulting in the fastest reported SPAD to date. However, the short dead time is accompanied by a high after-pulsing rate, which we show to be a limiting parameter for SPAD miniaturization. We describe a new and compact active-recharge scheme which improves signal-to-noise tenfold compared with the passive configuration, using a fraction of the area of state-of-the-art active-recharge circuits, and without increasing the dead time. The performance of compact SPADs stands to benefit such applications as high-resolution fluorescence-lifetime imaging, active-illumination three-dimensional imagers, and quantum, key distribution systems.
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