In the paper, the SEM detector is evaluated by the modulation transfer function (MTF) which expresses the detector's influence on the SEM image contrast. This is a novel approach, since the MTF was used previously to describe only the area imaging detectors, or whole imaging systems. The measurement technique and calculation of the MTF for the SEM detector are presented. In addition, the measurement and calculation of the detective quantum efficiency (DQE) as a function of the spatial frequency for the SEM detector are described. In this technique, the time modulated e-beam is used in order to create well-defined input signal for the detector. The MTF and DQE measurements are demonstrated on the Everhart–Thornley scintillation detector. This detector was alternated using the YAG:Ce, YAP:Ce, and CRY18 single-crystal scintillators. The presented MTF and DQE characteristics show good imaging properties of the detectors with the YAP:Ce or CRY18 scintillator, especially for a specific type of the e-beam scan. The results demonstrate the great benefit of the description of SEM detectors using the MTF and DQE. In addition, point-by-point and continual-sweep e-beam scans in SEM were discussed and their influence on the image quality was revealed using the MTF. SCANNING 36:384–393, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.