If there’s one talk of the tech town, it’s the selfie stick. 

Whatever you think of the humble (or, really, not at all humble) camera pole, it stole the literal show at Las Vegas’ annual tech spectacular. Last week, the Consumer Electronics Show swelled with more than 170,000 people, some of whom came with the sticks smuggled in their checked bags. Others bought theirs onsite.

At CES, selfie sticks lined the exhibit hall; outside, Las Vegas sold them practically on every corner. Which means, if you weren’t careful, you could have had your eye taken out by an iPhone. But hopefully the photog got a great shot of him- or herself beaming at the camera before it bludgeoned you. 

See also: Me, My Selfie And I

The monopod that took Asia by storm obviously has its hooks in the tech community now. Some people love them; others abhor what they stand for. Depending on your point of view, they’re either a fun, handy selfie tool or indicative of everything that’s wrong with the modern, self-obsessed human. (Our take: It’s both.) 

Either way, the selfie stick has arrived, and there’s no going back now. If you’re interested in picking up one of your own, here’s what you need to know.

Not All Selfie Sticks Are Created Equal

One thing selfie sticks excel at is the group selfie. The further away the camera, the more people you can fit into the shot.

You can squeeze a lot of people in a selfie stick shot. A LOT of people. 

Or capture a moment with a stranger in an exhibit hall. 

This guy thought it was hilarious that, amid all this amazing technology, we were the most fascinated in ourselves. 

The basic version is a telescoping pole with a camera clamp on the end of it. The idea is that you use it with a timer, holding it up until the timer runs out and the shutter engages, taking the picture. 

Do not get a basic selfie stick and use a timer. There are better options.

Some sticks use Bluetooth, so you can hit an integrated button or use a separate remote control. Sounds handy, but bear in mind you’ll have to pair the stick to your phone and mind the battery life of yet another item. Separate remotes aren’t ideal either, if you tend to lose them.

Other units come with mirrors. That may seem weird, when smartphones come with decent front-facing cameras now. But rear cameras still take better quality photos, so a mirror makes it easier to use.

Selfie sticks, for all their variations, can’t hold a charger. This user came up with his own solution.

I wound up picking up this beauty (below), on sale in the sundries shop at my Las Vegas hotel. “Beauty” is a strong word. The white cord is incredibly ugly, but necessary to make the shutter button on the handle work. Then again, if I’m out in public with this, I’m clearly not worried about what I (or my gear) look like in the real world. Just the resulting photo. 

On the plus side, I don’t have to charge the stick or pair it over Bluetooth. I pop my phone in, plug in the cable, and I’m raring to go. It even holds my enormous iPhone 6 Plus. 

Retail prices run from $10 to more than $50, and so does the stick quality. Some are inexpensive—imagine the cheapest, flimsiest tripod you can with two legs broken off. Professional sticks like the Quik Pod feel more rugged and well-made, but cost more. (Quik Pod’s founder even claims to have invented the modern selfie stick.) 

A Polarizing Pole

A few other tips:

  • You want a pole with an ever-so-slight bit of heft—not enough to bog you down, but just enough weight to keep the camera steady, especially if you take lots of night shots.
  • Grip is important. You’re holding this with one hand, and you might fire off several shots. You don’t want a cheap grip sliding around as you frame the perfect shot.
  • Make sure the selfie stick uses standard camera threading at the end, where the clamp meets the pole. A lot of gadgets use this same size threading, so if you ever get bored taking pics of your own mug, at least you can use the stick as a boom arm or extender for other devices.

Some folks find the selfie stick useful in lots of ways, some practical: 

Sometimes, the selfie stick is a little less practical: 

Others think they’re evil magic “wands” that—poof!—turn charmingly unprofessional, casual pics into overly polished, soulless photos…: 

…that have taken an even more ridiculous turn. Get your derriere ready for the belfie, or butt selfie. 

As for the original, it can trigger an unexpected shift in behavior. 

One thing you’ll notice about selfie stick shots are the big smiles. You can’t help it. Onlookers may roll their eyes, but there’s something fun and funny about tacking a camera to the end of a long stick and taking your own picture. That’s why people in these selfies look so happy. Really, they’re just cracking up at its preposterousness. 

In my first photo session with my own new selfie stick—not out in public, but in the privacy of my hotel room (below)—I started out looking stiff and posed. A few shots later, giddy with the selfying, I got progressively artsier (read: goofier).

Your mileage may vary. But I doubt it.

Group photo by Jennifer Gapay; Belfie photo courtesy of Belfie; other photos by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite