A Michelson interferometer and an optical beam deflection configuration (both shot noise and diffraction limited) are compared for application in an atomic force microscope. The comparison shows that the optical beam deflection method and the interferometer have essentially the same sensitivity. This remarkable result is explained by indicating the physical equivalence of both methods. Furthermore, various configurations using optical beam deflection are discussed. All the setups are capable of detecting the cantilever displacements with atomic resolution in a 10 kHz bandwidth.