An avalanche photodiode based APD detector for the visible wavelength range was developed for low light level, high frequency beam emission spectroscopy BES experiments in fusion plasmas. This solid state detector has higher quantum efficiency than photomultiplier tubes, and unlike normal photodiodes, it has internal gain. This paper describes the developed detector as well as the noise model of the electronic circuit. By understanding the noise sources and the amplification process, the optimal amplifier and APD reverse voltage setting can be determined, where the signal-to-noise ratio is the highest for a given photon flux. The calculations are compared to the absolute calibration results of the implemented circuit. It was found that for a certain photon flux range, relevant for BES measurements 10 8 –10 10 photons/ s, the new detector is superior to both photomultipliers and photodiodes, although it does not require cryogenic cooling of any component. The position of this photon flux window sensitively depends on the parameters of the actual experimental implementation desired bandwidth, detector size, etc. Several detector units based on these developments have been built and installed in various tokamaks. Some illustrative results are presented from the 8-channel trial BES system installed at Mega-Ampere Spherical Tokamak MAST and the 16-channel BES system installed at the Torus Experiment for Technology Oriented Research TEXTOR.