We report on a distance control system for low-temperature scanning near-field optical microscopy, based on quartz tuning fork as shear force sensor. By means of a particular tuning fork optical fiber configuration, the sensor is electrically dithered by an applied alternate voltage, without any supplementary driving piezo, as done so far. The sensitivity in the approach direction is 0.2 nm, and quality factors up to 2850 have been reached. No electronic components are needed close to the sensor, allowing to employ it in a liquid He environment. The system is extremely compact and allows for several hours of stability at 5 K. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.