Personal Technology

The Best Selfie Sticks: Look Ridiculous, Shoot Great

If You’re Going to Join the Silly Trend, You Might as Well Get the Best

By Joanna Stern

Jan. 13, 2015 1:35 p.m. ET

Since the dawn of time, the stick has been essential to human survival. Without it, our ancestors may not have been able to create fire, figure out writing or trudge their way toward new frontiers.

History books may soon be updated with the most recent (and possibly the greatest) chapter in the stick’s continuing relationship with humankind. That humble tool now enables us to lift our phones and cameras aloft, to take better photos of our surroundings...and ourselves.

Behold, the selfie stick.

I know what you are thinking. “If this narcissistic trend was meant to be, we’d have been born with really, really long arms!” I felt the same way when I first started noticing selfie sticks cropping up.

With many selfie sticks, you can plug your phone into the headphone port. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal        

But using a selfie stick is a little like eating an oyster for the first time: Don’t knock it until you try it. There are some real advantages to having one. No, looking respectable isn’t one of them. But it does capture more stable video, and you can shoot wider angles of yourself and your whole family—without having to hand your phone over to a total stranger.

I figured if I’m going to join this absurd-looking trend, I should have the best one. Now, you’re probably thinking, “How complicated can a stick be?” Not all are created equal, not remotely. So to pick a winner, I’ve been accumulating countless selfies, and the disdainful gazes of countless strangers, as I put 14 sticks through their paces.

Cheap Stick

Fundamentally, selfie sticks are just poles with attachments at the end for your smartphone or small camera. They’re no more than hand-held tripods.

The phone mounts sometimes clamp down hard, like you’re putting your delicate device in a bear trap. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal        

For just five bucks on Amazon, you can see countless listings for the same 40-inch, TV antenna-looking pole with a colorful rubberized grip and “Monopod” label. Most are made in Asia, which makes sense, since the selfie-stick phenomenon did take off there. Don’t buy this—your precious phone or camera should be worth your paying at least $15.

A variation of that basic stick, such as the $20 Looq DG, has a remote-control feature: A dangling curly headphone-jack plug at the top lets you take a photo without having to tap your phone’s screen. Attach your iPhone or Android phone, plug in the cord, launch the camera app and you can start snapping away, just by pressing a button on the rubberized grip.

It is very convenient, but pressing the button can cause the stick to shake a bit, resulting in a potentially blurry photo.

The button on the Looq DG allows you to take the photo without tapping your phone’s screen. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal

Vivitar’s Bluetooth remote. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal

Vivitar’s $15 alternative, the Bluetooth Remote Selfie Monopod, which will be on sale early next week, comes with a wireless remote instead of a headphone plug. Its foam-like grip is also far more comfortable to hold and the stick, available in a number of different colors, has a more eye-pleasing design. I kept misplacing the tiny control, however.

Some have Bluetooth built in to the handle, even the forthcoming Belfie stick—yes, a Kardashian-inspired stick that’s hinged for taking DIY butt photos. However, you have to remember to charge your stick and you can’t get the pole wet.

All of the sub-$30 options have one thing in common. They feel really cheap. If someone really disliked your selfie stick, they would have no problem bending it right over their knee. Sometimes it even mistakenly presses on the iPhone’s camera button so you end up with hundreds of photos you don’t want. The plastic phone mount clamps down hard, like you’re putting your delicate device in a bear trap. Good luck fitting your big-screen iPhone 6 Plus or Galaxy Note.

Raise the Bar

For that beach or ski vacation, there are plenty of more durable and waterproof options. You just have to pay more.

Of the many I tested in this range, my favorite was the $60-to-$70 Digipower QuikPod Selfie Extreme (aka “QuikPod Ultra” or “Xpert”), in part because of its raised rubberized grip.

Look for the Digipower Quik Pod Selfie Extreme with this good grip. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal        

There’s no shutter gimmick built-in—to shoot remotely, you’d have to use a timer or buy a $5 Bluetooth remote, like one from Vivitar. (There’s a mirror, though, so you can frame selfies even with a GoPro , traditional point-and-shoot or the rear-facing better camera on your phone.)

The saltwater-proof pole, which extends 53 inches, is much sturdier than others, with a regular tripod leg that is held in place with lever lock. The QuikPod’s drawback is that its cheaper listings (like one I’ve seen for $50) don’t all come with a phone mount. Make sure to check the mount situation before buying.

If you need to buy a mount, iStabilizer’s $20 SmartMount is the sturdiest and safest I’ve found for my phone. Upgrading a bad mount could also be an important investment, especially if you plan to hold your phone out over the side of a boat or chairlift!

Going Extreme

These sticks aren’t just for beauty selfies and family photos. They’re great for capturing action shots on the fly. And when GoPro arrived, the trend really picked up. The good news? Pairing a selfie stick with a ski helmet or Jet Ski makes you look way less ridiculous.

                     GoPro's 3-Way stick. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal     

    GoPro’s 3-Way turns into a tripod. Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal        

I highly recommend GoPro’s own $70 3-Way. It folds up into a fairly compact package that can easily be tossed in a backpack, it has two joints you can bend to nail a tricky shot, and the bottom pops off, so it can become a tripod.

I also liked PolarPro’s $100 PowerPole. It is the Tesla of selfie sticks, with a built-in battery that recharges phones and GoPros.

Still, my old standby the QuikPod costs less, is lighter and can be retracted into a much smaller pole. And a GoPro mount is included in the box.

I’m going to give it to you straight, dear reader. No matter which one of these you go with, you’ll still look a bit ridiculous walking around with your phone attached to a stick. But the better the photos of you and your family get, perhaps the more comfortable you’ll be with the social cost.

Mark my words, I’ll be taking the QuickPod on my next vacation. And every time I use it, I’ll be reminded of this epoch in human history where we, like our cave-dwelling ancestors, took up sticks to overcome our greatest obstacles.

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